ATHENS — Sam Tardits’ surname may tip you off that there might be a connection with a Frenchman who passed through Athens 30 years ago, a walk-on football player, whose stunning and inspiring versatility amazed all who crossed his path.
The reason Sam Tardits has been in Athens the last two football seasons, playing the game at Clarke Central, is because of his father, Richard, who wanted his son to learn to play American football as he did,but to also experience the things that enriched and fulfilled the senior Tardits’ life — competition, cultural resonance and academic challenge.
Richard wanted Sam to compete on the high school level in the U. S. to better prepare him for a collegiate opportunity.
After setting the program sack record (later broken by David Pollack), Richard played three years in the NFL (Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots), before becoming a businessman in Atlanta where Sam was born.
Over a Bubba Burger with Sam and his surrogate parents, Charm and Jeb Bradberry, recently, the static conclusion is that Sam is happily following in his father’s footsteps, although he would prefer to make his own mark with a different college football program.
It is like father, like son in every respect. The senior Tardits arrived in Athens wanting to play football, which he became connected with while an exchange student in Augusta where he landed principally to learn English. Edouard Servy, a family friend from Biarritz, deep in southern France’s Basque country, introduced Richard to Mixon Robinson, a Georgia team doctor, who made the arrangements for Richard to try out for the American game, which has so much broad appeal across the country.
Richard was not sure how to dress out at the outset, things like putting the thigh pads in the correct pocket of his practice pants. He knew nothing of the nuances of the sport. In his first scrimmage, when a blocker charged his way, Richard tackled him. He was practicing with and against kids who grew up with football being second nature to them.
Soon, Richard became oriented sufficiently to compete and learned the game well enough to become the beneficiary of a scholarship. He figured out the angles and used his instincts and mental acuity to excel. His story, improbable, had an unequaled end-result for a kid who grew up playing rugby, which Sam plays with equal passion, being a member of the French national rugby team — like his father and also his paternal grandfather, Maurice, who played rugby competitively into his 60s until his doctor told him it was unadulterated foolishness to continue.
As Sam prepares to return home for Christmas, his Clarke Central report card reflects only high marks. He has excelled on the football field for the Gladiators. He has been diligent in the classroom, preparing himself for a college football scholarship, which would be the fulfillment of his considerable goals. Sam speaks three languages — French, his father’s native tongue, English, his mother’s native tongue, and Spanish, which he picked up from growing up across the border with Spain and in the classroom.
This has been an emotionally gratifying experience for Sam and the Bradberrys. He gets along with everybody. His best friends are from football, principally kids who are fluent in blocking and tackling but not French. His relationship with his teammates is a mutual admiration society.
Charm discovered early on that Sam eats most anything which made grocery shopping easy. But she quickly learned to double all orders — like buying four steaks for dinner: one for her, one for Jeb and two for Sam.
While Sam is proud of Richard and is grateful for the trail his father blazed, he aspires for matriculation at another campus, perhaps out west. The Air Force has expressed interest and that appeals since Sam grew up wanting to become a pilot like Richard. He has great emotional affection for UGA but prefers not to follow in Richard’s footsteps.
But he was overwhelmed when he became connected with Richard’s legacy summer before last. While riding on Jeb’s boat on Lake Burton, a DNR officer stopped the boat and was about to issue a safety citation to Sam for riding on the gunwale of the boat. Jeb intervened by saying, “He doesn’t understand, he is from France and is over here to play football.”
This prompted the officer to remark, “France, huh. Well, we had a Frenchmen to come play football over here and played it very well a few years ago at the University of Georgia.” That confirmed to Sam that it was fulfilling to be an extension of the Richard Tardits legacy.
There is much more to the story, but space constraints won’t allow for that, but it should be noted that Sam’s parents, Richard and Joanna, never considered that they would send Sam and his two sisters to private schools in the U.S. They have sent all three to public schools.
The Tardits’ view is that they wanted their offspring to interact with kids from all walks of life –socially, racially and economically. That education is available for everybody but there is no degree for it.