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Tartt's absence means Gators must fill large hole on offensive line

GAINESVILLE — Mention left guard Jim Tartt to any of his fellow Florida offensive linemen and watch their eyes light up as they prepare to tell a story.

Everybody has a Jim Tartt story.

The 6-foot-3, 315-pound fifth-year senior from the Panhandle town of Sopchoppy has left an indelible mark on the fellow linemen he calls "like brothers" — on and off the field.

"He's one of my best friends, just an all-around great guy," fifth-year senior Phil Trautwein said.

"An extremely lovable guy," sophomore Maurkice Pouncey said. "Yes, I said it: lovable."

That explains the huge void as the Gators prepare to play at Arkansas on the heels of a home loss to Ole Miss.

Tartt who has had four shoulder surgeries (three on his left) was hurt again Saturday and is out this week.

His teammates are hurting for him.

"They want me to get better, and they want me to play," said Tartt, who admits his shoulder causes him either a sharp or numbing pain every time he takes a hit. "But, shoot, that's with anybody that gets hurt. We all want one another to get better so they can get back out on the field because they all know how much the other one misses it."

And the Gators are hurting without him.

Tartt entered the season with a team-leading 29 starts, but his most recent surgery caused him to miss the first two of this season. Coach Urban Meyer reluctantly said this week he most likely can't be counted on for more than one game in a row for the remainder of the season.

"We're very cautious," Meyer said. "You just bleed for him because he's a warrior."

The offensive line was supposed to be the gem of this team. With three fifth-year players and a group of young talent in the wings, the unit seemed solid.

But Tartt's struggles are among a rash of injuries that have the Gators reeling. Along with Tartt, Marcus Gilbert (left ankle) and Maurice Hurt (elbow) are also injured. All play on the left side of the line, which will turn and see some new faces much sooner than expected.

"The offensive line is the strength of our program, and all of a sudden you take three out, it's difficult," Meyer said.

Florida will turn to redshirt sophomore Carl Johnson, redshirt freshman James Wilson and junior Ron Wilson and consider pulling the redshirt of freshman David Young.

Johnson, who hasn't practiced at guard since preseason camp because the staff has been preparing him for tackle next season, said he's ready.

"When you lose a player like Jim Tartt, that hurts," Johnson said. "No only his leadership, but he's like a coach on the field. He makes calls. He's a fifth-year senior. It's a hard blow. But as they say, if one of your boys goes down, you pick up the rifle and keep going. I've worked really hard in practice at guard, and my coaches and teammates trust me. I'm ready. I've been waiting for this for three years."

Fifth-year senior lineman Phil Trautwein understands how this all goes. A key member of the Gators' 2006 national championship team, he entered last season with great promise but broke his right foot during preseason practices and missed the entire season. He said he has confidence in the young players who are being asked to step up, and the injuries are a stark reminder of what he learned the hard way last season.

"I know that at any minute, it can be taken away from you," Trautwein said. "That's why I appreciate it so much more every day."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Tartt's absence means Gators must fill large hole on offensive line 09/30/08 [Last modified: Saturday, October 4, 2008 9:46am]
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