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FSU football coaches gamble — and look to have won — with Saturday Night Live recruiting event

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Taggart and company open their arms to a plethora of elite prospects.

NCAA Football: Florida State-Willie Taggart Press Conference Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State did not have a great turnout at its June summer camps. According to sources on the coaching staff, that was partially by design. They were wanting to have an elite event in July in which the best of the best could come and mingle, be recruited together, and compete against one another. They called it Saturday Night Live.

This was, to be clear, a risky strategy. If kids didn’t show up, it would mean they didn’t get to FSU in either June or July.

But the staff pulled if off brilliantly. Better than anyone could have expected, I think, including Florida State’s coaching staff itself.

FSU had easily the best camp turnout in the state of Florida over the weekend, and maybe in the whole country. The list of those at SNL dwarfed that of the Gators and was better than Miami’s. Car after car pulled up, and out walked four- and five-star recruits. Many were from Florida, but there were also kids from Georgia, Louisiana, the Carolinas, California, and Washington. We counted over 75 in all.

FSU hit Saturday Night Live out of the park. The number of elite kids to show up compared to what FSU expected was an incredibly high ratio.

FSU made it fun and exciting

There was a DJ on the field. Rap music blared from inside the football complex. Rapper Plies, whom all the kids and many of the parents from Florida know, showed up. The kids were really having fun, and were all putting it on Snapchat and Instagram. And WWE wrestler Titus O’Niel, who is a former Gators player, got the players hyped up before the event. And in the middle of it, there was a two-hour period of instruction and competition inside Doak Campbell Stadium.

Player after player said that they had never experienced anything like it. It was flashy.

But the draw of the flash provided an opportunity for substance

One thing has been very consistent with the new Florida State staff: when it gets kids on campus, it almost always establishes an excellent connection with them.

And that connection seems to be instant. Whether it’s five-star Nakobe Dean, or five-star Kardell Thomas, or four-star Derrick Hall, or four-star Kalen DeLoach, or any of the 20 or so players we interviewed, they all mentioned how quickly they “felt comfortable immediately,” “could be myself right away,” “felt relaxed, at home,” etc. There’s a reason for that.

It also holds true of their parents. Take Dean’s mom, saying Willie Taggart is the best coach she has ever met.

Or Thomas going on and on about how much his mother connects with coach Taggart and the staff.

Repeatedly, kids spoke of how “real,” and “genuine” the coaches are. There is a sense from interviewing the players that they believe they can trust this staff at a level perhaps different from the trust with other staffs.

The staff stayed and played cards late into the night with some of the families on Friday. And some parents came with extremely long lists of questions, which FSU sources say they had anticipated and believe they answered well.

FSU made up ground on some key targets. And it had more ground to make up with some than I realized due to the prior staff quitting in the middle of 2017.

There is no doubt that FSU’s staff effectively quitting recruiting in the middle of the 2017 season is hurting the current recruiting class. So much recruiting of 2019 was going on last year because with the early signing period, many staffs had 2018 classes all but wrapped up. But not at FSU. A high school coach I know overheard parents discussing how the old staff simply stopped contacting their sons, who, to be clear, are the elite of the elite prospects.

FSU has had to do a ton of work to get some of these kids to even consider taking a visit. For example, Thomas:

“I’ve been talking to coach Woodie for about four months now. He’s been telling me to come to Florida State. I wasn’t really trying to hear that, I’m not going to lie. The first time I came here it was so boring, no disrespect to the last staff, but it was so boring, I was like I’m never coming back here again. Coach kept telling me it was different, I finally came and I see what he means.”

FSU made up serious ground with Nakobe Dean, who told us that he feels more comfortable with FSU than some places he’s been multiple times: “I feel more comfortable here than some places I’ve been a couple times,” Dean said of his comfort level. “It’s really important.”

Scoopage

Here are some things I learned from speaking with sources, recruits, families, etc.

QB

QB Sam Howell was actively recruiting DE Kayvon Thibodeaux and WR George Pickens. Howell is not the most rah-rah guy, he’s more laid back, but he definitely wants talent around him.

RB

I’m not entirely sure FSU will take a RB in this class. I think it will continue to evaluate Tye Edwards.

WR

FSU feels it made a great impression on Auburn commit George Pickens. An official visit is expected, although one has not been scheduled— yet. Pickens’ brother Chris Humes was at Arkansas State at the same time as FSU offensive coordinator Walt Bell. Of course, so was Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. I also learned that FSU loves its current receiver roster, and it is comfortable passing on the position this year if it does not land a megastar. Pickens would qualify as that.

Offensive line

  • Charles Cross really impressed my sources Saturday. He needs to add strength and technique, but his length, bend, and athleticism are that of a future starting tackle at a big school. FSU was happy to get him.
  • The staff will continue to monitor Howard Allen. If he can qualify academically, he can be an FSU-quality player.
  • Thomas could be a day-one starter for the Seminoles.

Defensive line

  • I think if five-star Kayvon Thibodeaux wants a very business-like atmosphere, he’ll pick Alabama. If he wants more of a personal/family feel, it’ll be Florida State. I can’t totally count out USC for a SoCal star, but I can tell you that FSU’s current players totally think Thibodeaux is coming to FSU, as do some recruits and their families.
  • Quashon Fuller seems a lot more committed to FSU than I have ever heard him be. He is taking more of an active role in recruiting.
  • FSU made a great impression on four-star DT Tyler Davis. My pick for him as of now is the Seminoles.
  • FSU “commit” Mike Morris went to the Michigan BBQ. I think the writing is on the wall there.
  • The one player who didn’t show who the staff was still hopeful to draw as of late in the week was DE Lloyd Summerall, who went to Miami after visiting UF.

Linebacker

  • DeLoach and Dean hung out together quite a bit on the field Saturday. DeLoach commits Monday at 2 p.m. ET, and I expect the choice to be FSU. Having DeLoach in the fold as a vocal recruiter would certainly help the class.
  • Having Cam Akers on the squad definitely helps with Dean, in that he was also a No. 1 player in the state of Mississippi who chose an ACC school over an SEC school, even though doing so in that part of the country is looked at with a bit of a side-eye. Florida State made a great impression on Dean’s mom, and she is extremely involved in his recruitment in that she comes prepared with questions and is really on top of things.
  • FSU gave Hall something to think about. The Gulfport (Miss.) linebacker might still favor Auburn, but him coming back for the Virginia Tech game will give FSU a shot to make an even bigger move. Even if he commits before his season begins, his recruitment will still be far from over.
  • FSU certainly feels better about the linebacker position leaving the weekend.

Defensive back

  • FSU commit Akeem Dent showed up, like FSU expected. The rumors about him going to Alabama’s BBQ turned out to be bogus. Akeem’s mom was with him as well. He is more committed to FSU than most outsiders believe, and I fully expect him to join his older brother Ardarius with the Seminoles.
  • I don’t think FSU is going to sign CB Kaiir Elam. I think Florida probably will. I am not close to making an FSU pick for Elam but FSU is a lot more optimistic about its chances with Elam than anyone in the recruiting industry. I think a great impression was made, and that a good bond between Elam and current players was made. Elam and Akeem Dent are also pretty friendly. A return visit is likely.
  • Brendan Gant is a smart player who looked good on Saturday. He finally went public with his commitment to the Seminoles.

ETC.

Several recruits were told that the football-only facility would begin construction “soon,” but there did not seem to be many details about it.