SPRING:Tartt Emerges As Surprise Starter On O-Line

One of the biggest surprises in Gator football to most Gator fans this spring has been the emergence of Jim Tartt on the offensive line. The 6-3, 315-pound redshirt freshman was expected to help anchor the second team offensive line this year while waiting his turn to get major playing time, but judging from his play this spring, Tartt's the type who believes the future is now.

Tartt arrived on campus last year nursing a shoulder injury he sustained while playing high school football at Crawfordville Wakulla. Surgery was required, wiping out the entire 2004 season. The first day in full pads this spring, Tartt finally was able to knock heads with the kind of abandon that fans have been expecting. He was a little tentative his first trip to the "The Circle of Life" but once that first hit came, Tartt was able to show he hasn't forgotten how to bury an opponent.

His aggressive play this spring has caught the eye of the new Florida coaching staff. They like the combination of strength, footwork and attitude that makes him the aggressive mauler type of offensive guard that they prefer. Once he shook off the rust and forgot about the shoulder, he started making things happen and that's when the staff began to notice.

"I am just trying to come out here and play hard," said Tartt, who has earned a position on the first team line at right guard. "I think I am picking it up pretty well."

Tartt's on the job training is against a group of strong, experienced and quick defensive linemen. Every day he's challenged by the likes of Ray McDonald, who could be the best D-lineman in the SEC this year if he lives up to his potential.

"It is pretty tough," he said, talking about the caliber of linemen he faces each day in practice. "They are probably the best d-linemen in the SEC."

Jim Tartt (63), Mike Degory (68), Lance Butler (72), and Tavares Washington (76)

Tartt was a power lifter in high school, so he's already developed far beyond the typical redshirt freshman lineman. Already he is among the strongest players on the team and he actually prefers to go toe to toe with the big, strong guys instead of the players whose chief asset is their quickness.

"I probably prefer the bigger and stronger guys because I am pretty big and strong myself… the quick guys give me hell," he said. "Ray he's hard as crap to block. He jumps all around and it messes you up pretty bad. He's quick."

The recruiting battle to get Tartt in orange and blue is one of the most memorable in recent Gator recruiting history. The Sopchoppy native grew up some 30 miles or so from the Florida State campus. Compounding the issue was a family that was Seminole through and through. Because of the connections to FSU, he was thought to be a Seminole lock when it came to recruiting.

"I was a Seminole fan pretty much the whole time I was growing up," he said. "My whole family was."

When it came time to get serious about recruiting, Tartt took a long look at FSU and started having second thoughts about the Seminoles. The more he investigated Florida, the more he felt he had a future in Gainesville.

"When I started looking at schools, and the way they were headed, I knew this (Florida) is where I needed to go," he said.

When Tartt elected to sign with the Gators, Florida didn't just get one football player --- The Gators got an entire family of UF football fans. It's not a passive interest in UF either. Check out the Tartt family and you'll find orange and blue flags flying in their yards and on their cars. And, Sopchoppy, being a rather small town, has largely been converted, too.

"My whole family is Gator fans now," he said. "I converted all of them."

The Tartt family joined Jim in Tallahassee last November as the Gators pulled off the upset at the newly named Bobby Bowden field. Even though he wasn't dressed for the game he had an experience that will last him a lifetime.

"That was one of the greatest days of my whole life, beating them," he said. "I was really happy."

Tartt will have some tuneup surgery on his shoulder following spring practice. A few weeks of rehab will be all that's necessary and then he will start working hard to maintain his position on the starting offensive line for the Gators. He knows that Coach Urban Meyer is looking for "road grader types" at offensive guard. A healthy Jim Tartt could be just what Coach Meyer is looking for. He's already shown Coach Meyer that he has talent and that he has a willingness to persevere through the tough times. Now he wants to show the coach he has the ability to open gaping holes in opponents' defensive lines.

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