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A Fitting Welcome for FSU’s Taggart

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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For a spring game, no less, Doak Campbell Stadium felt different.

It means a lot because this is how Florida State was built. You look at guys who played in the 70s who are currently here today, guys that played in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, that's imperative as far as keeping the culture going in the right direction.
~Bryant McFadden

The unofficial start to the Willie Taggart era at Florida State was, in some ways, as much about the program's past as its future. In front of a packed Doak Campell Stadium, the annual Garnet and Gold Game was both an homage to and a homecoming for those who built the Seminoles into a college football power. Hundreds of former FSU players, from Deion Sanders to Dalvin Cook, were on hand. In front of the venue in sculpture, Bobby Bowden was on the sidelines in a suit. Not yet undefeated or nationally-ranked, the Seminoles were all smiles.   

For one evening, all that Florida State could be took a back seat to all that Florida State has been; the scene wasn't just important for Taggart, it was designed by him. Taggart has made precedent a priority.  

There was a very real and very special energy in Tallahassee, one arguably not seen since the Seminoles won the 2013 BCS National Championship. Save the weather, mid-April felt like late fall. Pride and spirit met at the corner of Pensacola Street and Stadium Drive; this tailgate came with trophies and tradition. The party lasted through the night.  

Amongst the former players, there was a deep conviction in Taggart's vision, both his glances back and his stare ahead.

"It means a lot because this is how Florida State was built. You look at guys who played in the 70s who are currently here today, guys that played in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, that's imperative as far as keeping the culture going in the right direction," explained former star defensive back Bryant McFadden, also a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The solidarity on the sidelines only strengthens the Seminoles' new foundation.

"We're behind him 100%," nodded former All-American edge-rusher Everette Brown. "I'm pretty sure the guys inside the building are responding well. It's just about excitement and having the guys play fast and win."

As the current team competed on the field, generations of former greats shared memories nearby. There was an empowering, uplifting tone around game, with plenty of intermingling before and after. At the center of it all was Taggart. Now Florida State's head coach, the Bradenton-native has been a lifelong fan. Saturday, for Taggart, the Seminoles were his Seminoles.

On multiple fronts, Taggart made efforts to bring history into the spotlight. The players who worked for that legacy took notice.    

"It's great. He's a great guy. What I love about him is he embraces the tradition. I just hope he does great things, I'm really excited," explained former All-American wide receiver Marvin Minnis. "It's amazing. I feel so good, having all of my brothers back here."

For a spring game, no less, Doak Campbell Stadium felt different. Though Florida State won't open the season until hosting Virginia Tech in a primetime Labor Day showdown, Saturday night had all of the sights and sounds of gameday -- and then some. April 14th was an introduction and an indoctrination for coaches and players old and new. Game results aside, the Seminoles made a statement. 

"The feeling is surreal. I think the energy is electric. For me, I think it's one of the most highly-anticipated spring games in a long, long time based on how the season ended and the transition of bringing in a new staff, a guy that has loved Florida State his entire life and has really embraced the culture," McFadden continued. "For former players like myself, guys before me, he embraced the entire culture and now it's time to put it on the field."   

A simple look around, for guys who played on the very field where they stood, explained a lot.

"I think it just shows you why this is this," Brown said, motioning behind him. "To see coach Bowden come back and the former guys come back. It just shows you that each and every one of us did something to help build this along with the fan base and the great community. We just want to continue to keep it going. We have a fresh start with coach Taggart in his first year, so why not start fast?"

There was new leadership and a new vibe in Tallahassee this spring. Notably, there was also much of the same.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports