The last few weeks have been as emotional as they could be for Ron Dugans.
Florida State’s receivers coach lost his mom, Kathryn Dugans-Brown, last week after a two-year battle with cancer. Dugans was able to be with his mother in her final days.
“I got a video from my players saying, ‘Coach, we’re thinking about you. We’re praying for you,’ “ Dugans said on Tuesday morning. “It’s been a special feeling. To know that, coming back, they’re about to make you feel like you’re family. It’s been good.”
Dugans returned to Florida State this winter looking to continue the work done by receivers coach David Kelly, who is the team’s 10 assistant but is primarily the Seminoles’ recruiting coordinator. He inherits a deep receiving corps that includes senior Keith Gavin, junior D.J. Matthews and sophomores like Tamorrion Terry, Keyshawn Helton and Warren Thompson.
It’s a group that appreciates the on-field instruction that Dugans has brought to the group.
“I love coach Dugans,” Terry said. He has taught me a lot so far. Just being out with that guy and he being right beside me, he always tells me has my back and stuff like that. I just respect him so much for that.”
On Saturday, 20 years after he helped the Seminoles win a national title, Dugans will walk out onto the field in Jacksonville wearing garnet and gold as an FSU assistant. He had previously coached against FSU as an assistant at Miami (2016-18) and South Florida (2015).
“Words won’t be able to explain it,” Dugans said. “When we had our scrimmage this past week, it was very emotional for me then also. Because it’s my first time being in a game-like situation during the fall season on my sideline, on our sideline, Florida State’s sideline.
“It’s always been on the opposing side. This is going to be very emotional for myself. Especially when I hear the War chant, who knows what may happen then. I’m just glad to be home.”
Dugans is home again, more than 25 years after he committed to FSU as a standout receiver at FAMU High – just a few miles south of Doak Campbell Stadium. He is excited about the prospects of seeing the on-field results from his receiving group after a full spring and preseason camp.
“The biggest thing we wanted to work on in that group was mental toughness, handling adversity and also handling success,” Dugans said. “That group has matured. They’ve done some really good things in the classroom, they’ve done some really good things on the football field, they’ve competed and there’s no complaints. That was one of the biggest things, we had a lot of guys go down in training camp and those guys didn’t complain not one time. Not one time.
“That was a big part of just the growth in the offseason and learning how to deal with adversity and learning how to deal with when the times get hard for ‘em.”
The preseason is a mental and physical grind. And for Terry, it was especially difficult because of his knee surgery that kept him out of the first few weeks of camp. Terry returned to the practice field on Aug. 19, and he has been running and cutting since before then.
But Dugans, coaches and the training staff have been cautious as Terry returns to the mix.
“Tamorrion has been at me,” Dugans said. “ ‘Coach I’m ready. I want to go.’ He was getting mad at me because I wouldn’t let ’em go. He looks pretty good, to be honest with you. We had him doing some of those things while he was hurt — catching the football — so he wouldn’t be rusty coming back. He’s running well and he’s catching the ball well. I’m excited to have him back.”
Dugans is also excited at the maturity shown by D.J. Matthews, who has been one of the Seminoles’ most improved players – if not the most improved – this offseason.
“He’s dynamic,” Dugans said. “I saw DJ in high school. He was doing some of the same things in high school. You don’t know what he’s going to do with the ball in his hands, but you know he’s going to make some plays. He’s a guy that can make you miss.”
FSU saw the emergence of a number of young receivers in 2018, from Terry to Helton and even TreShaun Harrison (who was used often on end arounds). The Seminoles are also optimistic about the trio of second-year players who haven’t had chances to show much on the field – Warren Thompson, D’Marcus Adams and Jordan Young. Converted defensive back Ontaria Wilson has also been praised by coach Willie Taggart for his progress this offseason.
Dugans said he concurred with a previous comment by offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who said he felt like FSU was loaded with talent at receiver but that the Seminoles could use a few more bodies for the up-tempo offense.
“In this offense, you would like to have a lot of depth at that position,” Dugans said. “Because it is a lot of route running. Especially at practice with the way we go. Our tempo is so fast, you got to have dudes at that position. Kendal is right. We want more depth at that position.
“But I think right now where we are, having 9-10 guys, I think we’re ready to roll.”