Florida State’s recruiting class plummeted to No. 65 in the nation.
It wasn’t looking good.
But the Seminoles had two Palmetto natives new to the coaching staff with a track record in solid recruiting.
With three weeks to go until National Signing Day, head coach Willie Taggart and linebackers coach Raymond Woodie helped orchestrate – along with the remaining FSU staff members – a surge in the national class rankings.
They reached as high as No. 11 — and No. 3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference — in the 247 Sports rankings.
But how exactly did it happen after Taggart was hired in early December to replace Jimbo Fisher, who left for Texas A&M?
“We recruit like no other. We aren’t just going to recruit you, we’re going to recruit everybody around you,” Woodie told the Bradenton Herald. “It’s all about the relationships. ... Coach Taggart is a player’s coach and they feel that. Everywhere I’ve been, he’s had an open-door policy and makes you feel comfortable. You can go talk to the head coach at any given time. He allows that.”
On Taggart’s staff for a fourth time, Woodie has always received adulation for his recruiting prowess. It started at Western Kentucky and continued at South Florida and Oregon before joining Taggart at FSU in January.
With the Ducks, Woodie and Taggart lured several Florida prospects to the program, establishing a connection to the Sunshine State that hadn’t been utilized before their arrival in Eugene, Ore.
To secure top talent and attract players from near and far, staff members – Woodie, tight ends coach Telly Lockette, running backs coach Donte’ Pimpleton and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Walt Bell, among others – followed Taggart’s plan.
Woodie said there are three things a potential recruit must have: good character, good grades and some type of ability.
We recruit like no other. We aren't just going to recruit you, we're going to recruit everybody around you.
Palmetto’s Raymond Woodie Jr. on how the FSU coaching staff improved the Seminoles recruiting class from No. 65 in the nation to No. 11 after signing day
“I’m not saying you have to be great in all of those areas, but if you have those three, and we sell that, you could be a Florida State Seminole,” Woodie said.
Executing that plan translates into results, and this year’s signing class is proof. Prior to 2018, the Seminoles struggled to sign a player from one of the premier schools in the Tampa Bay area.
There was interest in several recent stars from perennial state power Armwood High in Hillsborough County, but those players, which included defensive end Byron Cowart, wide receiver Alvin Bailey and defensive back Leon McQuay III, chose other schools.
The so-called, “Armwood Curse,” as Tampa Bay area recruiting experts dubbed it, was lifted when Taggart’s crew wooed wide receiver Warren Thompson and defensive end Malcolm Lamar into signing national letters of intent.
“It was challenging, but it was all fun,” Taggart told the Tallahassee Democrat about his entire 2018 signing class.
Woodie said Taggart’s formula leads to success.
And that formula includes academics.
74Graduation Success Rate (GSR), in percent, in 2015 during Taggart’s tenure with USF
“We may take an average kid in the classroom, a good character kid and a good football player,” Woodie said. “And that average is going to become great and that good is going to become great because of his program.”
But the three steps also include getting players who fit their schemes on the field. It’s a recipe that added up to an impressive haul of talent at every previous stop.
For 2018, the transitional class sparked such success that Woodie was named one of Rivals.com’s Top 25 recruiters.
The early signing period in late December and February’s signing day yielded results, which included flipping linebacker Xavier Peters from Kentucky and landing tight end Camren McDonald from Long Beach (Calif.) Poly.
“It takes a special talent to be able to recruit guys to graduate, guys to win football games, guys to not get in trouble off the football field, team players,” Woodie said. “You have to do your homework and I think we do a good job. Taggart has this sheet and we have to grade these guys on those components.”
With so many factors to consider, Woodie said they have to know the custodian that knows the player, you have to know teachers, family members, lawyers, preacher or whoever is around the prospect.
“You don’t want to get the wrong fit,” Woodie said.
62Percentage of the 21 signees from this year’s class that are considered 4-star recruits in the 247 Sports composite rankings
And to get the 2018 signing class into the top 15 national rankings required lots of hours on the job with just a few weeks to signing day.
“Infinity,” Woodie said. “Seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”