By: Dan Apple, UF Communications
Throughout the preseason, head coach Urban Meyer bragged about his offensive line, calling them one of the biggest strengths of his team. A big reason for that compliment is due to a trio of redshirt seniors, Jim Tartt, Phil Trautwein and Jason Watkins. All three were voted team captains for the 2008 season and all three are members of the Gator Football Leadership Committee.
This trio of players is led by Tartt, who has made 30 career starts at left guard, almost twice as many starts as any other player on the current roster. He started 13 games during the 2006 National Championship run and started all 13 games last season.
Tartt came to Florida as a member of Ron Zook’s final recruiting class in 2004. He redshirted his freshman year but the coaches knew he would be a major contributor in the future based on his play in high school.
“He's a road grader. Another guy that has that toughness for you inside,” said Mike Locksley, former UF recruiting coordinator. “He's also very athletic. He's a low-center of gravity kid who plays with a low pad level and he's a tenacious finisher. As far as strength, he's about as good as a guy could be coming out of high school.”
His high school coach at Crawfordville Wakulla knew he had a special player in Tartt.
“He is a big, strong offensive lineman with real good feet,” said J.D. Jones, former coach at Wakulla. “He is a leader, a great captain and a hard worker on the field and in the weight room.”
Tartt’s hard work paid off when he earned a starting spot for three games during his redshirt-freshman year. Injuries set him back that year but he rebounded to play a vital role in the team’s national championship as a redshirt-sophomore. Last season, Tartt led an offensive line that was tied for fifth in the nation in fewest sacks allowed and led the SEC in eight major offensive catogories. His play earned him second-team All-SEC honors.
Entering his senior year, Tartt is still working his way back to his all-conference form recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. His time off has allowed him to enjoy some of his other favorite hobbies, hunting and cooking.
Tartt, majoring in anthropology, comes from the small town of Sopchoppy, on the southeast edge of the Apalachicola National Forest. It is his country boy roots and his hobbies that have helped bring the offensive line unit together. One of the activities Tartt is well-known for are his backyard barbecues. According to teammates and coaches, Tartt’s cookouts are a little different than yours and mine.
“He cooks some weird things,” said offensive line coach Steve Addazio. “There are a lot of different foods coming out of his hometown.”
Trautwein, Watkins and the rest of the offensive line have been regulars at Tartt’s cookouts over the last few years.
“There’s no telling what he’ll cook,” said Watkins. “Any livestock you see. You might see squirrel, skunk or just roadkill. That’s Tartt there.”
Often the cookouts result from recent hunting trips. For guys like Trautwein, from New Jersey, this is a completely new experience.
“I love hunting. I love fishing. I don’t do it much. The first time I ever went hunting was with Jim,” said Trautwein. “It’s the first time I ever went catfishing where I put a string on a tree, went home and came back and there’s a catfish on it. Everything with hunting and fishing, I’ve done with him.”
During these hunting trips and cookouts, the players form a very important bond that can be translated into success on the football field.
“The chemistry these guys have is the best I’ve ever seen,” said Coach Addazio. “Those are three guys who have really paid their dues. They came up the hard way in this program. I think they appreciate where they are.”
Tartt, Trautwein and Watkins have spent a lot of time together since they all arrived in Gainesville in 2004.
“We’re so close. We’ve been here forever,” said Watkins. “There’s nothing new we could pull on each other, like all the jokes. We’ve seen it all from each other. We have a really close bond.”
There’s a reason that Coach Meyer believes so strongly in this unit. Maybe that reason is Tartt’s barbecue.