FAU Football: Head coach Willie Taggart excited about competition as first preseason practice concludes

“Owls are bigger, faster, and stronger,” Taggart said.


Photo courtesy of FAU Athletics.

Michael Gennaro, Social Media Manager

Second-year football head coach Willie Taggart said the mood was “like Christmas” after the Owls completed their first preseason practice on Friday.

Taggart said most players on the team were working themselves back into football shape, but that he was pleased overall.  

“Everybody’s excited. . . The energy was good for everyone. We got some good work in,” Taggart said. 

Taggart particularly singled out the returning presence of senior linebacker Akileis Leroy, who sat out the entirety of last season. “He’s had a big impression on this entire football team, all these guys were excited and happy for him to be back, not just the defense but the offense as well,” he said.

This year’s team will be carrying extra seniors such as Leroy because of the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which provides a unique challenge during practices and preseason games.

Taggart plans to split practices up, giving more players chances to get the repetitions needed to be ready for the season opener on Sept. 4 at Gainesville against the Florida Gators.

“For us it’s a good thing. More depth. More than we’ve ever had before,” Taggart said. “Splitting practices gives some of the younger players a chance to “get some good coaching that they probably wouldn’t get otherwise.”

Once practices are unified again, “everybody will know exactly how we practice and how we do things,” Taggart said.

There is no clear-cut favorite to start at the quarterback position for the Owls this season, but the hope is that the competition in the quarterback room will lead to players raising their games.

“I’m excited to see who is going to separate themselves,” Taggart said.

When asked what he was looking forward to the most for 2021, Taggart said that his players understand him much better this season than last season.Due to the chaotic nature of last season, he did not get as much time to spend with players as he would have liked.

“I didn’t know all of our players’ names going into the season” in 2020, Taggart said. “I had to call some players ‘homeboy,’ or call them by their number. I know all of our guys’ names now, and they know me.”

That same unfamiliarity surrounded the coaching staff as well. “We didn’t really get a chance to jell as a new staff because of COVID. This year we’re able to do that, and have spring ball and go through some of the kinks,” Taggart said.

The first couple of weeks of camp will be all about competition and talent evaluation, according to Taggart. Single-digit player numbers were missing from the first practice of the season because he wants players to earn them.

“You gotta be that dude to wear a single digit. I felt like we had too many guys wearing single digits that weren’t helping us,” Taggart said. “We’re gonna make our guys earn it to represent the right way, so when teams play us they know that guy is that dude. We don’t want a single-digit player sitting on the sidelines.”

Numbers will be awarded at the end of fall camp. “They gotta earn it. We’re not giving anything out anymore,” Taggart said. “You gotta do something to get something. Gotta do the work.”

With the extra time in 2021 that the team did not have last year, the players are sharper, according to Taggart. Players have a better understanding of what the team is trying to run, and it has enabled the players to help each other out, as well as the coaches.

“Now that guys have a better understanding, they’re bringing guys along with them. It’s good because you got players coaching players now. We’re more comfortable with what we’re doing, and it allows us to go out there and just play,” Taggart said.

The Owls added transfer players between this year and last year, and Taggert believes they will bring more competition. “Iron sharpens iron,” he said.

One of the biggest differences between this year and last season is access to the weight room. Taggart noted the number of injuries the Owls suffered last season that could have been avoided had the team had a normal spring, and also noticed that most teams were bigger and stronger than the Owls. This year so far, players have bulked up or lost weight as needed.

“You take for granted not having an offseason workout,” Taggart said. “This offseason, we wanted to make sure we hit the weight room hard and made sure our guys did a great job with nutrition and eating. It’s made a world of difference for our football team; I think when you see our team this year, you will see a bigger, stronger, faster football team. 

Taggart said better training has led to better self confidence for the entire team. 

“Before, our players wore hoodies to hide the flab. Now, they’re showing the muscles a little now,” Taggart said.

When asked if this year was a “prove-it” year for the Owls, Taggart said that they came here to win championships. “That’s our motto. That’s what we want to do. There are no excuses, we gotta do the work.”

FAU opens the season on Sept. 4 at the University of Florida.

“I feel good about this team and the work they put in and [I] know they’ll be ready,” Taggart said.

Michael Gennaro is a staff writer and social media manager for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or message him on Twitter or Instagram @mycoolgennaro.