As one of the few holdovers from the Ron Zook regime on the Florida roster, Jason Watkins feels like he’s been around forever. He arrived on campus in 2004 along with Jim Tartt and Phil Trautwein and five seasons later the three of them are the staples on a Florida offensive line that could be one of the best in the country. All that time on campus, all those football practices and all those days pumping steel in the weight room have allowed Watkins, Tartt and Trautwein to forge a friendship that will last forever.
One of the benefits of a close friendship is you can get away with a joke or talk a little trash. That’s particularly true of Watkins and Tartt, who don’t let background or ethnicity get in the way of a little bit of fun. Watkins is African-American and originally from the outskirts of New Orleans. He’s from Lakeland now, but he’s got a bit of big city in him. Tartt is the ultimate country boy. He’s white and from Sopchoppy, where the deer and alligator population dwarfs the number of real people who live there.
It doesn’t take much for these two big guys (Watkins is 6-6, 310 and Tartt is 6-3, 310) to get something going and once it gets started, it might take awhile before it’s finished.
The perfect example might be that trip the Gators took to Knoxville in 2006. As the busses pulled into Neyland Stadium for a nationally televised game between UF and Tennessee, Watkins took notice of all the Tennessee fans milling around. All those Vol fans dressed up in their finest creamsicle orange were just too inviting a target.
Watkins couldn’t contain himself.
Watkins recalls, “We got off the bus and I said, ‘Tartt, look! All your family members are out here!’ It was a bunch of rednecks!”
Tartt didn’t retaliate. At least he didn’t right at the moment. He waited for the perfect opportunity and he got even.
After that, Watkins makes sure he watches his back. He knows if he doesn’t Tartt will have something up his sleeve.
“He’s one of the funniest guys on the team,” Watkins said. “We got new lockers, and he sat back and watched me type my code in. Then when I left he’d go in, take all my stuff and hide it.”
It might be difficult to find two people more opposite than Tartt and Watkins. Tartt spends his free time hunting and fishing. He’s doesn’t mind getting his clothes all bloody when he skins a deer. Watkins? Blood’s not exactly his thing and there are plenty of things he’d rather do than spend his time in the woods somewhere.
Watkins has heard all about the hunting and fishing weekends in Sopchoppy. Lots of teammates have been there. Not Watkins. He’s in that group of UF teammates that tend to pick on Tartt about his home town.
“I’ve never even heard of it [Sopchoppy],” Watkins said. “We just pick at him about it. He says they have one house and then five or six miles down the road they have another house.”
While Watkins won’t venture into the woods to shoot a deer with Tartt, he will eat whatever Tartt brings home that he killed, especially venison. Watkins and Trautwein (6-6, 310), who hails from New Jersey, don’t have any problems pigging out on when there is fresh game on the grill.
“We’ll go hang out and cook out,” Watkins said. “(Tartt) is more outdoors so he’ll go hunting and bring some livestock back. We’ve had deer meat over at his place.”
When the three friends decide to eat out, they like those all you can eat places. Needless to say, they fill up and the restaurant might lose some money. The service staff at Sonny’s Barbeque probably hits the panic button any time they come walking in the door.
“We went to all you can eat at Sonny’s and I had rib bones stacked this high,” Watkins said with his hand at his chest. “We can throw down some food. I love it.”
Eating and cracking jokes aren’t the only thing Watkins and his teammates do. They’ve been known to pancake a few defensive linemen although they haven’t had much chance to do that this August. Watkins has been healthy but Tartt has been slowed because the coaches are being extra cautious with a shoulder that had surgery earlier in the summer. Trautwein, Maurice Hurt and Carl Johnson have also missed practice with injuries which means the offensive line hasn’t had much chance to build some cohesiveness.
With just nine days remaining until the season opener with Hawaii, the O-line is finally getting healthy. That has allowed Watkins to move to his more natural position.
“As of late, we’ve been coming back together,” Watkins said. “Phil (Trautwein) came back, so I’ve been most at my main position of right tackle.”
Now that the Gators have broken camp and are back into their game-ready mode, there is a sense of relief among the three friends.
“We were struggling saying we were going to be here forever,” Watkins laughed. “We looked around because it was our fifth two-a-days, and we were like ‘man, we can’t do this anymore!’”
They want to go out as friends and as champions in 2008. They also want to make sure Tim Tebow has the cleanest uniform on the field.
“If Tebow gets touched, it’s on the o-line,” Watkins said. “Our goal is for nobody to touch Tebow.”