Sunday, August 19, 2018
Colleges

Six months after exit, Willie Taggart still winning big in Florida

When Willie Taggart took the Oregon job six months ago, exactly no one doubted USF's former coach — a Bradenton Manatee alumnus — would continue scouring Florida for talent.

The glaring question was how effective he'd be at convincing prospects to attend a university three time zones away. For all of Taggart's charisma and catch phrases ("Do Something"), luring a kid that far outside his comfort zone seemed a daunting challenge.

So far, Taggart has met it with unexpected — even unprecedented — success.

Four months after getting letters of intent from seven Florida players on his first signing day in Eugene, Taggart already has non-binding commitments from two prominent bay area rising seniors: Wesley Chapel CB Isaiah Bolden and Tampa Bay Tech DE Jonathan King.

Chris Pietsch | The Register-Guard

Tampa Bay Tech's Jonathan King is the latest bay area recruit to opt for Willie Taggart's Oregon.

 



 

Ironically, Taggart might have struggled to get serious attention from either this time last year, when he resided in the same area code as both. Bolden once was an FSU commitment, and King had an offer from Florida.

SO LONG, 'NOLES: Isaiah Bolden on the flip from FSU to Oregon: They recruit family.

But Taggart has a snazzier brand to sell these days, and where better to sell it than on familiar turf, to familiar faces? Buoyed by the pledges of Bolden and King, the Ducks' 2018 class currently is ranked first in the Pac-12 and 12th nationally by 247Sports.

"A lot of his (area) relationships have held up," said Josh Newberg, veteran Florida recruiting analyst for 247 Sports and CBS Sports.

"I think if he can land three to four kids out of the Tampa area this cycle, it would be remarkable, something that's never been done at Oregon. I think he's got a shot to do that."

Indeed, Taggart's seven Florida signees in February (which included Armwood ATH Darrian McNeal and Pinellas Park DT Jordon Scott) were two more than the combined total signed by Oregon in the previous decade.

Octavio Jones | Times

University of Oregon recruit Darrian McNeal, center, takes a photo with his mother Deonzia Woullard, left, holding her 1-year-old son Clarence Gordon, and his brother Dyson McNeal, 5, during national signing day at Armwood High.

 



 

And while verbal commitments often go weightless in cyberspace (meaning Bolden and King still could change their minds), Taggart nonetheless appears on track to establish a cross-country recruiting pipeline previously unseen in the Northwest.

"Florida's a place everybody recruits," said Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports. "For Willie, he's got a better opportunity to land his top guys — or guys he wants — than other programs because of his roots in the state that he's planted lately."

It's not only Taggart's roots that come into play.

Former Bulls defensive coordinator (and Palmetto High alumnus) Raymond Woodie followed Taggart to Oregon, and Taggart managed two of the biggest offseason hiring coups when he lured former Bulls coach Jim Leavitt and Miami native (and University of Miami alumnus) Mario Cristobal from Colorado and Alabama, respectively.

A handful of other USF staffers also joined Taggart at Oregon, melding with other West Coast-savvy recruiters hired by Taggart. Just last week, that group attended satellite camps at FAU and Bethune-Cookman.

Octavio Jones | Times

Former USF defensive coordinator Raymond Woodie has been instrumental in helping Willie Taggart attract Tampa Bay kids to Oregon.

 



 

Combine those deep Florida ties with the astounding turnaround Taggart orchestrated at USF, not to mention the palatial facilities and reservoir of resources he can sell in Eugene, and Oregon's recruiting momentum seems to be nearing phenomenon status.

"The fact that (Taggart) was such a force in recruiting before, he comes in, it's just a different … uniform now," veteran south Florida recruiting analyst Larry Blustein said.

"He's the same guy, he has the same stuff to tell them, and he's got a better conference now to promote too."

Question is, how long can this success be sustained?

Chris Pietsch | The Register-Guard

So far Tampa Bay talent seems more than willing to be embraced by coach Willie Taggart and Oregon.

 



 

Do Florida prospects begin to sour on the notion of attending college so far away if Oregon isn't winning? Also consider homesickness, a malady that still afflicts an overwhelming majority of young collegians: If you're a Duck from Delray Beach, odds are you're not going home for Thanksgiving or even a bye week.

Such considerations could become weightier if Taggart can't pull off the same kind of program resurrection he managed at Western Kentucky and USF.

"Recruiting's all based on what you're doing on the field," Wiltfong said.

"Right now, Coach Taggart's able to present a lot of excitement because he's coming from a place where he was successful. And you get that bump at a prestigious program when you have a coaching change and there's a buzz about you. But it will dry up real quick — everywhere, not just Florida — if he's not winning."

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