Florida State head coach Willie Taggart has long been regarded as an excellent recruiter, but less than 18 months into his tenure as the head man in Tallahassee, Taggart has managed to land a number of prospects who don’t show up in the recruiting rankings.
In addition to two top-20 classes — one of which was 64th when he was hired by FSU late in the recruiting cycle — Taggart has managed to reel in an impressive core of walk-ons. In some cases, those prospects had multiple FBS offers.
“They’ve all been around great talent and have many years of experience under each and every one of their belts, so when they scout players, they know which players have that X-factor and have the potential to do something great in the next couple of years to help win championships,” said Austin White, a 3-star tight end who will walk on at FSU. “Coach Taggart knows exactly how to implement his system of how to play college football at the highest level and I think for any prospect, just knowing that a great school such as FSU has a phenomenal coaching staff really brings in some great players.”
White, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound tight end from Tampa, was among three 3-star prospects for 2019 who elected to walk on at Florida State rather than accept an FBS scholarship elsewhere. White had offers from Southern Mississippi and Bowling Green while 3-star linebacker Ricardo Watson, out of Armwood High School, turned down offers from Florida Atlantic, South Florida, Oregon and others to walk on in Tallahassee in 2019.
Treshaun Ward, a 3-star Tampa running back, had more than 10 offers from Power 5 schools, including Maryland, Oregon, Nebraska and Virginia Tech but instead chose to walk on at FSU. Taggart and company also helped add depth at the quarterback position by landing Western Michigan transfer Wyatt Rector as a walk-on. As a 3-star prospect in 2018, Rector had offers from Virginia, South Florida and Southern Mississippi among other schools.
“I always was a Florida State fan ever since I was a little kid,” White said. “It’s always been my dream school, so when I got the call from (Assistant Director of Football Operations Julie) Reed saying that they would like me as a (preferred walk-on), it was truly a surreal moment. So my family and I talked over where the best fit for me would be and where I would have the best opportunity to succeed in the classroom and on the field; we all agreed on Florida State.”
Taggart also managed to bring in a talented walk-on last season in 3-star quarterback Nolan McDonald — the brother of 4-star tight end Camren McDonald. McDonald turned down a scholarship from Air Force and as a redshirt freshman, is regarded as a real option to be the backup behind projected starter James Blackman. This offseason, FSU also welcomed former 3-star center prospect Andrew Boselli back to the program as a walk-on. Once a scholarship player at FSU, Boselli left the program prior to last season.
Landing big-time walk-ons isn’t exactly new for Florida State. The legendary Bobby Bowden churned out FSU legends like Andre Wadsworth and Monk Bonasorte after they arrived on walk-ons. During the Jimbo Fisher era, there were players like Javien Elliott who made major impacts, but in the modern era of Hudl and multiple online recruiting services, Taggart and staff seem to be landing them in volume.
“I’m just grateful and thankful for this opportunity,” White said. “It’s truly a blessing to make the dream come true, so I promise to my team, the FSU fans and my family that I’m going to give everything I have.”
The Seminoles aren’t only getting walk-ons who are happy to be at Florida State, but ones not lacking in confidence.
“I definitely think I can contribute, maybe on special teams,” Caleb Faris, a walk-on receiver from Tampa with offers from smaller schools, told The Daily Nole in February. “I’ve always had to work to get onto the field, so I think I can make an impact.”
White is no different. The large prospect said he’s idolized NFL Pro Bowlers Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce and sees his style and game as similar to Indianapolis Colts’ tight end Eric Ebron. White said his biggest strength is as a red zone target.
“Any time there’s a jump ball or anything thrown up near the end zone, I’m going to go get it to put some points up for my team and I’m going to continue to do it every time my name is called,” he said. “FSU is getting an Austin White that has great hands, great size, a team player and the ability to enhance the skills necessary to be dominant at the tight end position to get wins.
“Whether it’s flexed out in the slot or being on the line as the sixth lineman, I’m going to give my team and everyone supporting FSU everything I have; with all that being said, if God allows it, hopefully one day,I’ll make it to the NFL and show everyone that I was meant to play this game and be a great player, not only on the field, but off of it as well.”