Florida Atlantic’s Willie Taggart Can’t Imagine a Fall without Football

Willie Taggart arrived at Florida Atlantic University with high expectations. After a two-year stint at Florida State that ended in his dismissal, Taggart inherited an FAU team with two Conference USA titles in the last three years. Instead of coaching spring ball and working with a team that lost numerous starters to graduation or transfer, Taggart and the Owls have instead been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

In a teleconference with local media members Monday morning, Willie Taggart addressed his team’s current situation and reflected on the idea of a fall without football.

Willie Taggart can’t “grasp” a year lacking “America’s sport”

Although baseball has long held the official title of America’s national pastime, count Willie Taggart among those who believe that honor belongs to football. Formerly a quarterback at Western Kentucky and a head coach at four programs since 2010, Taggart admitted he still “can’t get a grasp” on what America would be like without a football season.

“That’s America’s sport. Everybody gets excited when football season comes around. It’s like Christmas. The whole country changes. So it’ll be interesting but again, we gotta think about people’s lives and our health because without that, there won’t be any football regardless.”

The 2020 college football season is slated to begin Saturday, August 29. FAU was expected to begin its season on Thursday, September 3, at Minnesota. President Donald Trump reportedly said last weekend he believes the NFL season, which opens September 10, should begin on time.

Florida Atlantic Athletic Director Brian White told the Inside The Burrow podcast last week he hopes for the best but is preparing for the worst. The NCAA has not yet announced any coronavirus-related changes to the 2020 schedule.

Taggart and FAU coaches are working virtually with players during the virus

Former Florida State head coach Willie Taggart was hired as Florida Atlantic's head coach in December 2019. Taggart's first spring camp was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Former Florida State head coach Willie Taggart was hired as Florida Atlantic’s head coach in December 2019. Taggart’s first spring camp was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. | Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Florida Atlantic was scheduled to open Willie Taggart’s first spring camp on Monday, March 23. Instead of physically practicing, players are meeting with coaches on the Zoom app. The NCAA approved a rule change last week permitting teams to hold up to four hours of film sessions instead of two hhours.

Taggart said strength and conditioning coach Joey Guarascio has done a “great job” meeting with players about staying active. FAU has not yet announced when students will be allowed to return to school.

Willie Taggart and Florida Atlantic are expected to have a big 2020 season

If there is a college football season, Willie Taggart and the FAU Owls will have an opportunity to repeat as Conference USA champions. FAU returns several important offensive weapons and posted the second-best signing class in Conference USA, according to 247 Sports.

An Oklahoma transfer, quarterback Chris Robison earned first-team all-conference honors last year. Robison passed for 3,071 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only six interceptions. Robison has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Former Alabama running back BJ Emmons ran for six touchdowns after in four games after returning from a broken leg. Another running back, the explosive Malcolm Davidson, averaged seven yards per carry and scored nine touchdowns.

Veteran receivers John Mitchell (38 receptions for 488 yards and five touchdowns) and Willie Wright (20 catches for 186 yards and two scores) are each slated to return. Veteran tight end Harrison Bryant, a projected mid-round pick and winner of the John Mackey Award, graduated. Bryant’s backup, John Raine, entered the transfer portal on Saturday.

The lack of a traditional spring practice could have a lingering effect on the Owls. FAU graduated multiple defensive starters on the defensive line and secondary.

Cornerback James Pierre elected to leave school early for the NFL Draft. All-conference cornerback Meiko Dotson, who led the nation with nine interceptions last year, entered the transfer portal in January.