TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart has his man.
Three weeks of fall camp and two team scrimmages were enough for Taggart to determine that Deondre Francois will begin the season as Florida State’s starting quarterback.
Taggart told Francois of his decision on Sunday, then announced it to the media before Monday’s practice.
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“When he’s in there running the offense, it’s a lot more efficient and a lot less mistakes,” Taggart said. “As a staff, we decided that Deondre was the best for us, and we’re going to go that way.”
It’s an especially satisfying result for Francois, a redshirt junior from Orlando who traveled a long and sometimes difficult road to this point.
The 2016 ACC offensive rookie of the year, Francois entered last season as Florida State’s unquestioned starter and perhaps a darkhorse candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
But a season-ending knee injury, suffered near the end of the opener, put an end to all that. Francois finished the season with 210 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and could only watch as freshman James Blackman served as FSU’s starter for the rest of the season.
Nearly 12 months later, Francois beat out Blackman, as well as redshirt freshman Bailey Hockman, to reclaim his job.
“Had a very, very healthy competition going,” Taggart said. “It was really good, and I thought all of our guys got better.”
Even more encouraging is the way Francois grew as a leader in the locker room.
That’s been a priority for Taggart since Day 1 – he’s often said that the ability to lead teammates is the most important trait a quarterback can have – and he publicly encouraged Francois to improve in that regard during the spring.
Since then, Francois has moved into an on-campus apartment and worked to strengthen relationships with his teammates on both sides of the ball.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and more,” Taggart said. “And just watching him with his teammates … I think more than myself just trusting him, I think the entire football team trusts him. And I think that’s important.”
Although the Seminoles are set to run a new offense this fall, Francois said earlier in fall camp that he believes his skill set is well suited for Taggart’s playbook.
Throughout his career, Francois has shown solid accuracy (58.8 percent completion percentage as a redshirt freshman) and decision-making (21-to-9 TDs to interceptions ratio), and he can run the ball when needed, too.
“You have to make decisions fast and be accurate at the same time,” Francois said. “There’s a lot of gray areas in this offense, and I feel like I manage that gray area well. I can use my legs a little bit, although I do like to pass more than I run.”
With his biggest decision out of the way, Taggart said Francois’ next step is the same as it’s always been:
“Do something,” Taggart said, echoing his favorite phrase. “I want him to be great. I want him to take care of the football and be a great leader for our football team and have a great year.”