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FSU’s historic Tampa Bay recruiting class is (almost) all gone

All four locals who signed in Willie Taggart’s 2018 class are gone or leaving. But Mike Norvell continues to emphasize recruiting this area.
Armwood High's Warren Thompson was one of the four local players who signed as part of Willie Taggart's 2018 class at Florida State. All four are gone (or on their way out).
Armwood High's Warren Thompson was one of the four local players who signed as part of Willie Taggart's 2018 class at Florida State. All four are gone (or on their way out). [ ZACK WITTMAN | Times (2018) ]
Published May 24
Updated May 24

When Willie Taggart signed his first Florida State class, his Tampa Bay ties were obvious.

The Palmetto native and former USF head coach landed four locals in that 2018 haul: Wesley Chapel’s Chaz Neal and Isaiah Bolden and Armwood High’s Warren Thompson and Malcolm Lamar. FSU hadn’t signed that many players from the Tampa Bay area since 1982.

Three years later, Taggart is no longer with the Seminoles. And it doesn’t look as if any of those four signees will be, either.

The latest move came late last week when Neal entered the transfer portal. The former three-star prospect appeared in 19 games over the past two seasons, usually on special teams. Assuming Neal leaves the program, he’ll be following his other three Tampa Bay classmates out the door.

Chaz Neal played at Wesley Chapel High before signing with Florida State.
Chaz Neal played at Wesley Chapel High before signing with Florida State.

Thompson, a former blue-chip receiver, is set to reunite with former FSU offensive coordinator Kendal Briles at Arkansas. Bolden played in three games this spring for FSU legend Deion Sanders at Jackson State, and Lamar has joined Taggart at Florida Atlantic.

The Seminoles’ entire 2018 haul has had a high rate of attrition, even by the rocky standards of transition classes. Of the 21 players FSU signed that year, 14 are already gone (including Neal). And only one of those 14 departures was an early entrant into the NFL draft — cornerback Asante Samuel, whom the Chargers drafted in the second round.

Mike Norvell has already had some success recruiting the Tampa Bay area. His first class included four-star running back Lawrance Toafili (Pinellas Park High) and Largo High linebacker Jayion McCluster. Two offensive line transfers, Devontay Love-Taylor and Dillan Gibbons are also locals; Love-Taylor starred at Mitchell, and Gibbons helped Clearwater Central Catholic reach the Class 3A region final.

Norvell acknowledged this area’s importance Friday night before FSU hosted a youth clinic in Tampa (more on that later).

“This is a place we need to do well in,” Norvell said. “We’ve had really good players in our program’s history from this area. That’s something that we celebrate. For us to make sure that the Seminole Way is understood and these kids know what we’re all about and being able to get them to Tallahassee to have great careers is something that we’ll be celebrating.”

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