Sports

Welcome home, Willie Taggart. Florida State coach returns as success story.

Coach Willie Taggart of FSU speaks to media and fans at the Mertz Theatre in Sarasota on a bus tour Monday night.
Coach Willie Taggart of FSU speaks to media and fans at the Mertz Theatre in Sarasota on a bus tour Monday night. ttompkins@bradenton.com

It wasn't quite his native Palmetto, but it was still the 941.

Florida State head football coach Willie Taggart made his return to the area he grew up on his tour around the state.

Visiting the Manatee-Sarasota region, Taggart brought fifth-year senior Demarcus Christmas with him in Monday's spring tour stop at the FSU Center for Performing Arts as part of the Seminole Rally for FSU boosters and fans.

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Coach Willie Taggart of FSU speaks to media and fans at the Mertz Theatre in Sarasota on a bus tour Monday night. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

The event was sold out.

"Played high school ball in Bradenton, but I'm from Palmetto," Taggart told reporters prior to the event.

Returning home, Taggart said he always makes sure to drive by the Oakwood Apartments, which is the place it all began for the former Manatee High and Western Kentucky star.

Taggart said he shows his kids that place, too.

"The tree is still there that I used to go sit under and fantasize under," Taggart said.

From Palmetto to Manatee High under legendary coach Joe Kinnan, Taggart learned how to win.

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Coach Willie Taggart of FSU speaks to media and fans at the Mertz Theatre in Sarasota on a bus tour Monday night. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Not just in football, but in life.

"It's big for me, again being a fan growing up as a kid and now being able to fulfill the dream, it's just huge," Taggart said. "And to come back home, where I know there's a lot of kids that were just like me and have dreams just like I did."

"Hopefully, one day to inspire them or anyone else to keep continuing to chase their dreams and you just never know what might happen."

That dream was to be a Florida State Seminole.

Something made possible when he took the head coaching job in December after head-coaching stints at Western Kentucky (2010-12), South Florida (2013-16) and Oregon (2017).

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Demarcus Christmas smiles at an event with Coach Willie Taggart at the Mertz Theatre in Sarasota on a bus tour Monday night. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Some other highlights from Taggart's return visit, this time as the Seminoles' head coach:

  • Taggart mentioned Kinnan and Frank Turner as important mentors at the high school level, and then the Harbaugh family (Jack, Jim and John) during his collegiate years.
  • Taggart said he keeps a photo in his phone reminding him of where it all started.
  • He said he still has strong relationships with his past coaches, and that's what coaching is all about.
  • On bringing Christmas down: Taggart said it was very important for him to bring another generation that is currently doing well at Florida State back home.
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