Photo by Jim Tartt
Florida Football

Where are they Now: Putting Sopchoppy on the map

May 22, 2020
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Jim Tartt was an unsung hero on the Gators’ 2006 and 2008 national championship teams. The starting left guard tends to not get noticed that much when he plays on some of the best teams in college football history.

The Sopchoppy, Florida (pop: 482), native arrived at UF in 2004 as an unheralded three-star recruit. He redshirted in Ron Zook’s final season on the Gators’ sideline and played in just four games in Urban Meyer’s first season, largely due to an injured shoulder.

Once he got healthy, he started 13 games in both the 2006 and 2007 seasons, including the 2007 BCS National Championship Game against Ohio State. He was named All-SEC Second Team by the league’s coaches after the 2007 season. He was named a captain on the 2008 team, but the shoulder issues returned and limited him to four starts. His 33 career starts were the most on the team at the time of his departure.

Due to his nagging shoulder injury, he declined to pursue a professional career and moved back to Sopchoppy after graduating. He currently owns and runs JB’s Sopchoppy Sauce with his wife. They produce and sell hot sauce using a recipe created by his uncle.

Tartt took some time to reminisce on his time at Florida, talk about his motivation for starting his sauce company, and more.

Take us back to when you were in high school. What was your recruiting process like, what schools did you consider, and why did you choose Florida?

“I had a number of schools that were contacting me and stuff like that. I knew deep down inside I wasn’t going anywhere other than the state of Florida, so it was between Florida State and Florida. Once I met the coaches and kind of saw what all was going on, I met some of the guys that were on the team and stuff like that, and also, I loved the town. Gainesville is awesome. So, it was a no-brainer once I got down there.”

When you arrived on campus you had to correct Florida Sports Information for misidentifying your hometown.

“They originally put that I was from Crawfordville, Fla. and I asked them to change it because it’s a neighboring town to mine, but not actually where I am from which is Sopchoppy, Fla.”

What was the toughest part of adjusting from high school to college?

“I guess the workload between school and – you know, high school, it’s kind of serious or whatever but as far as practicing and working out and managing school and going to tutors and doing all that stuff, it was a lot more than high school. High school, it’s all fun and games if you lose. It’s no big deal, but you got to win when you get to college.”

What was it like to play for Ron Zook, and what was the biggest difference between him and Urban Meyer?

“Coach Zook was a great guy. He’s probably the best recruiter that there ever was. He’s a people person, and he makes you feel real comfortable and stuff like that. Probably his biggest thing is just being able to get along with all the guys and all that. But, Urban was a for-real football coach. That was the big difference where he was there, and he was going to make you do what you had to do to win.”

You only played in four games your first two years. How discouraging or frustrating was that?

“I guess it wasn’t really real discouraging or anything or frustrating because I stayed broke up with my shoulders the whole time I was there. So, I didn’t really have a say in it either way because when your shoulder’s all jacked up and you’re having to have surgery, you can’t really change that.”

At what point did you realize the 2006 team could be a championship type of team?

“Whenever it kind of got to where everybody on the team – because, when Zook was there, there was guys on the team that I became real good friends with once Urban arrived that I never spoke to while Zook was there. Everybody had their own little group that you hung out with, and we became more of a real team, a unit whenever Urban got there. The defensive players, we were working together. And that’s what I don’t think guys really realize whenever Zook was there is that, yeah, you’re on defense and you’re not an offensive player, but you’re still one team. You’re working together to win, not ‘we did our job and you didn’t do it, so it’s your fault.’”

Are there one or two games or plays during the 2006 season that stand out to you the most?

“Jarvis Moss blocking the field goal in the South Carolina game. I thought I was going to have a heart attack whenever he did that. It’s all really and truly, if you want to know the truth, just a blur to me. The SEC Championship was special to me because when I was in high school, we went to the playoffs and stuff like that, but we never really won anything. We were just a mediocre team, and that was the first thing that I had really ever won as far as a championship or anything like that. A lot of guys I played with had won state championships in high school. Also, being in the SEC, in my opinion, and a lot of other people’s, it’s the best conference in the country. So, when you’re the best in the SEC, that’s almost more important to me than winning a national championship because lots of times people that play in the national championship, you could beat them any given day.”

What stands out to you most about the 2008 team?

“I don’t know. It was kind of just the same deal. We had just really good leaders on the team and everybody pretty much in the offseason, you could tell that we made our mind up. We were going to go win some football games. It’s kind of a mindset that I feel like a team has to have because you don’t – there’s no thought in your head that you’re going to lose a game or you’re going to lose anything. When you’re working out in the weight room, nobody’s going to lift more than you, nobody’s going to do better than you. Then, when you start playing football, you might be down by 20 points, but you couldn’t tell because everybody on the sideline still believes that you’re going to win the game. It don’t matter if it’s a minute left and you’re down by 20, you’re going to win somehow.”

Do you have any favorite Urban Meyer stories?

“I enjoyed it. He’s a fine football coach. He knows how to get good coaches to bring out the best in the players that he has. You might think that you’re really good at the position that you’re playing at, but they can tell, and they’ll put you in a position to where you’re going to be the best. You might be good doing one thing, but they’re going to make the best out of you.”

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What was Dan Mullen like back then as offensive coordinator?

“He’s a good dude just like he is now. He’s an awesome head coach, and he was an unreal quarterback coach. I think he also got pretty lucky that Tim Tebow came there too.”

What was John Hevesy like back then as assistant offensive line coach? How would you describe him as a coach?

“He’s awesome. I still talk to him. He’s a great man, and he’s a good coach, too.”

Do you have any teammates from back then that you are still close to and talk to?

“Oh yeah. I got a bunch of buddies. We all try to keep in touch, but with life going on and everybody going their separate ways and living in different places and everything like that, it might be a year or two before I talk to somebody, but we still talk and try to hang out as much as we can.

“Players I still keep in contact with are Cade Holliday, Todd McCullough, James Smith, Tate Casey, Riley Cooper, Jason Watkins, Phil Trautwein, Brian Crum. I speak to a lot of my teammates from time to time but those are the ones I have remained the closest to.”

What are your thoughts on Mullen as the head coach and the direction the program’s headed?

“I think he’s done great. I know from my experience in being around him [that] he knows how to win football games, and, in the big scheme of things, that’s what people want in a coach. They don’t care about anything else. They just want to win. So, I know that he knows how to do that, and he’s going to try to get the best coaches that he can get to help do that.”

When you were done with college, did you have an opportunity to play professionally, or did you know that you were done with football?

“I made up my mind. I done had four shoulder surgeries, and I’d had all the football I’d wanted at that point. I’m sure that if I had wanted to, I could have went and tried out for a team somewhere, but I was done at that point. I’d had all I wanted.”

How did the opportunity to own JB’s Sopchoppy Sauce come about?

“We’d always made it. My uncle, he started the recipe probably 35 years ago. That was just always something we had on the table. We never really thought anything about it as far as business goes. When I got back home and at the time there wasn’t a whole bunch of jobs to get, so me and my wife, we kind of hustled and did a bunch of odds and ends things and one of the things that we did, we made the hot sauce, and people bought it. It got to the point where we’d stand in front of the stove for 10, 12 hours a day making sauce, and it’d be all bought. We tried a bunch of different other things, and my wife, she kept telling me like, ‘No, we really ought to try to make a business out of this. We ought to try to sell this.’ I said, ‘Ah, ain’t nobody going to buy this. There’s local people right here that like it, but nobody else is really going to care for it.’ It kept on and kept on. I was working with the state of Florida at the time; I had finally got a job with the forestry department, and I was tired of crawling through the swamps every day and beating moccasins and everything else off of me. At that point, I was like, ‘Well, I’d do any dang thing.’ So, we started pursuing it a little bit, and every door that we came to, God was opening for us. It really just kind of fell into our laps. We put everything in God’s hands, and here we are.”

How would you describe your hot sauce, and how is it different than other types?

“It’s not technically a hot sauce. It’s an all-purpose sauce because you can use it to barbecue with, you can eat it on seafood, you can marinate food with it. You can do a number of different things that you can’t do with say just a normal hot sauce or a cocktail sauce or a barbecue sauce, but you can use it for all three of those things. It’s awesome. It’s sweet, and it’s got just a little bit of building heat to it. I don’t know if you’ve tried any ghost peppers or anything like that, those ones that stick with you and they just burn and continue to burn. Our sauce isn’t like that. So, you can get some heat, and it’ll be warm, but you can take a sip of water or whatever you’re drinking, and it will go right away.”

What’s been the biggest key to marketing your business and letting people know that you’re selling sauce?

“Well, mainly, of course, you use Facebook and Instagram and stuff like that because it’s free marketing. The only thing I can tell you is what we started doing from the get-go, me and my wife, we decided that everything that we’re going to do that we were going to try to put God first and we were going to try to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything else has just fell into place. People will call me from states that I’ve never met this person, never talked to them, not friends with them on Facebook, anything like that. I’ll have a random person call me and say, ‘Hey, my cousin called me from’ – they might be in Idaho – ‘Hey, my cousin called me from Alabama and tried your sauce, and I want you to ship me a case of it, or I want you to ship me a gallon of it,’ and they ain’t never even had it. Just out of the blue, people will call and stuff like that. I’m sure if we put a lot more effort into marketing and stuff like that or money we might be a little bit more successful or something like that, but that’s our main goal is everywhere we go, we just try to spread the word about Him. He’s taken care of us.”

Are there any lessons you learned through playing football that help you still today?

“Working hard and just when you get your mindset on something, you got to work as hard as you can to achieve that goal because it’s not going to happen for you. You can’t expect it just to magically appear, so with business and stuff like that, I feel like it works out really good because in football, the harder I worked or the more I did, the more reward there was for me. You can definitely take that and parlay it into business, I feel like. I got a lot of buddies that I think are extremely successful because of the work ethic and stuff we learned playing football.”

What else have you done post-football besides the sauce company?

“It’d be easier for me to tell you what I haven’t done. The rural community that I live in, I live right by the Gulf of Mexico and then we got the woods and everything like that. I’ve taken people fishing, taking them hunting, I clean fish for charter boats, I’ve sold seafood, worked for the state of Florida forestry department, I’ve done landscaping. I’ve done about everything; jack of all trades. If you need it done, I can do it.”

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Find out more about JB's Sopchoppy Sauce, including how to place an order for a bottle of your own, by clicking HERE

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