Spring is the perfect metaphor for the college football fan. You’ve gone seemingly months without ANY TYPE of football so the brief spring installment period gives you a reprieve from the drought.
This is especially true for fans of Florida State.
After this past season, the program needed new life. Insert Willie Taggart and friends.
This was the first time since I believe 2008 that I’ve come back for a spring game or even looked at practices, which is something that I would’ve done even if I wasn’t covering football for Gridiron Now.
Over 300 former Noles and by my count 65,000 fans felt the same way. I’ve never seen this before.
I have consumed FSU football from four different ways in my time: as a fan, a recruit, a player and in the media. Here are my perspectives of the weekend that was at FSU.
The Fan Experience and The Game
The last few games of the 2017 season were dismal; FSU fans showed their displeasure through attendance. They also showed their excitement for this spring by attendance. A crowd ranging from 55-65,000 was at Doak to experience Taggart up-close.
The energy was like a fall game against a lesser opponent, but a game none the less. It’s not supposed to be like that for what amounts to a scrimmage.
Fans went all out.
Parking for tailgating opened up at 10am and there was a line starting at 8am. I got involved as me and my “Doak Boyz” podcast teammate, Geno Hayes, had our own tailgate. It was like a big family reunion.
Myself, as well as other former players, went from tailgate to tailgate signing autographs and taking pictures with fans.
The experience inside the stadium was electric as well.
I was on the sidelines and also inside the Champions Club. Fans were excited about what they were seeing on the field. To me, the former player and analyst, it was vanilla, but to the fan starved for football the excitement generated “oohhs” and “aahhhs” with each play.
After watching the replay on ESPN, I could still see the energy.
Fans welcomed home past legends including the patriarch of the program, Bobby Bowden.
It was all capped off with a victory appreciation lap from Taggart which saw him go around the stadium to thank fans on the lower level for coming to the game. It’s amazing how humble, yet confident he is.
As a fan, I pray that never stops.
Salt-N-Pepa looked amazing.
“Doak Boyz” tailgate will happen again Labor Day for Virginia Tech. Check your local listings for time and what is going to go down. Local listings means @doakboyz or @sportsden_live on Twitter.
Recruiting has changed a lot since 2002 when I signed my letter of intent with the Seminoles.
Unofficial visits and junior days are now all the rage in getting recruits to campus. FSU hasn’t really ever used the spring game to create the atmosphere of an in-season Saturday at The Doak, but with the hires of Sharrod Everett and Trae Hackett – support personnel for the football program who do not coach on the field – that has changed.
Those guys are unsung heroes of this football staff along with numerous other people who do a great job of making sure that Taggart’s vision is on display for recruits to see. The atmosphere for those who want to become Doak Boyz is that of a family reunion.
The theme of the entire trip was fun. You really feel like a cousin coming into the football family. The best thing is, it was all done in relative silence. Many observers thought it was a mistake for FSU to schedule the spring game on the same day as the Gators and Hurricanes, but FSU had a “who’s who” of recruits from all over the nation and its own backyard in attendance.
Many prospects in the current recruiting cycle as well as future ones were in attendance and they all talked about it as family. Even recruits at other schools talked about now wanting to come experience just what is going on in Taggarhassee.
Current commits as well as those who I have on my “Big 36” were in attendance. To quote Bob Lacivita, a long-time FSU employee who handles the administrative aspects of recruiting for the football program, “I’ve been around a long time and at many stops. I’ve never seen what I saw in terms of attendance and energy what I witnessed this weekend!”
Those are strong words coming from a man who has been instrumental in transforming the football program at schools like N.C. State and Florida and who helped Jimbo Fisher create the recruiting machine at FSU. FSU has never had a problem bringing top guys through the door, but in a phrase that’s been tossed around often this spring, “it’s just different” now.
The effectiveness of Taggart’s overhaul to the Noles recruiting approach cannot be questioned now as FSU landed four commitments over the weekend while gaining a lot of momentum going into the season. I was always excited as a recruit, but these kids seem to be eager to get into the garnet and gold. What’s even crazier is that there’s still a lot of relative unknowns about how successful Taggart can be in Tallahassee.
I came up during the tail end of the “Dynasty” era of Bobby Bowden so wanting to be a part of the program was a no-brainer. Now, I could see how a 17-year-old would have doubt after a 7-6 campaign that saw your successful coach leave.
The energy of these coaches towards recruiting can be seen. Taggart can flat out recruit and I can now see why at one point Oregon had the No. 1 recruiting class during his brief tenure there. Recruiting is a quickly evolving animal and it seems that these guys have their finger on the pulse of what these kids want to see.
The Doak Boyz Experience
I spoke about the recruits feeling like cousins at a big family reunion. Imagine being in a room full of 300-plus former Noles from every generation. It was a three-and-a-half hour session of, “boy, it’s good to see ‘ya” and, “man, it’s good to be seen!”
What’s ironic is how much us former players all intersect or watch each other through social media even though some had never met in person. This was the first real concentrated effort to bring everyone together from the university.
Why it took so long? I don’t know.
I think during the Bowden era, it might have been taken for granted as we were still building a tradition when the greats played. Fisher tried to etch his own traditions into Seminole lore in my opinion. It’s not that we weren’t welcomed to games, I’ve never had a problem getting tickets, but it’s also probably the first time that I’ve actually seen a concerted attempt to bring everyone in.
No RSVP needed.
There was a record of almost everyone who has ever been on a roster at FSU. What I also thought was cool is that now they have all of our information to track us and let us know when things are going down. I have to give props to Hackett on this again as the event was really good.
We were able to interact with all the coaches as well. You know we all love Odell Haggins and we spent time with Taggart, Walt Bell, Harlon Barnett, Raymond Woodie and others. Being able to talk to the guys running your alma mater is something that has been foreign to us since Bowden stepped down.
We also all paid respects to Mickey Andrews who seemed like he was ready to yell at someone and also hug us at the same time. It’s still weird to see him show love. I’m like ready for him to tell me to repeat a drill or do some “up-downs,” those are essentially “burpees” to y’all civilians.
The staff made sure to hook up all former players with parking passes and four tickets for ourselves and family. At $10, it was nothing to buy them, but the gesture was appreciated along with wristbands for field access.
One of the things that fans always ask me is, “how cool is it to stand on the sidelines?” Well, in the past regime, it kind of sucked because you’re in one place and can’t see the game when it the play moves too far away from you. Saturday, we had access to walk all around the sidelines during this scrimmage.
I got a chance to see Khalan Laborn and a few others I wanted to say “wassup” to up-close and personal. A lot of other former guys took advantage of this as well, not to interrupt what coaches were telling them, just to say “wassup.”
To me, it’s smart to incorporate the past into the future as it helps recruiting, ticket sales. and atmosphere. I personally know fans who came out once they learned that Peter Warrick, Snoop Minnis, Charlie Ward, etc. were going to be at the game. Even Jameis Winston came through. He was able to help “make” the trip of the nation’s number one recruit.
It would be real dope to see this carry over into the season with players having access to practice, passes, and being honored for what we did to help build that program. I discussed this in my six-point plan earlier this off-season – Doak Boyz helping build other Doak Boyz.
Article Originally Appeared on Gridiron Now: http://gridironnow.com/fsu-spring-game-beginning-of-a-new-era-for-fans-recruits-and-former-noles