ATHENS – Longtime Georgia fans will no doubt remember “Le Sack.” Well, get ready, folks, for “Le Sack II.”
Actually, that might not be a fair nickname for Sam Tardits. He is the 16-year-old son of Richard Tardits, who earned the nickname “Le Sack” while racking up quarterback sacks as a defensive end for the Bulldogs in the late 1980s. Sam, meanwhile, played in a football game for the first time in his life on Thursday. The rising junior was wearing a number 99 jersey for the Clarke Central Gladiators when they faced off with Jefferson in an exhibition game. And while Sam did play defensive end, nobody’s certain that will be his ultimate position.
So Le Sack II may be a little premature. But just the fact he is in the States playing football is a story of its own.
For you millennials, Richard Tardits was not an ordinary football player. He was a French rugby player who came to the United States as an exchange student, walked on at Georgia and left four years later as the Bulldogs’ all-time leader in quarterback sacks. That record would eventually be run down by David Pollack, but the Tardits’ legend lives on the minds of the people who were around the witness his amazing feats at Georgia and later in the NFL.
Fast forward a quarter-century and we find young Sam following in his father’s footsteps. The similarities are uncanny. A rugby star who competed for the national team in France, Sam Tardits was sent by his parents to America to finish his secondary education, same as his father. And if an American football career develops from it, well, all the better.
Asked recently if he felt his was embarking on a budding football career, Sam Tardits answered unassumingly.
“I don’t really know,” he said with a heavy French accent. “I’m not a starter yet. I’m just working on my drills and trying to get better.”
Clarke Central coach David Perno first tried the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Sam Tardits at middle linebacker. But Perno quickly came to the same conclusion that Vince Dooley did with Richard 31 years ago. That is, without a lot of football fundamentals to fall back on, it’s easiest to line up a novice at end and just instruct them to go get the man with the ball.
But the truly remarkable part of Sam Tardits’ story is how he came to be live in Athens, Ga. — and with whom he is residing.
It all started in the men’s grill at Athens Country Club late last spring. Jeb Bradberry went there that day to have lunch and swap stories with friends like he does at least a couple of days a week.
He came out an expectant father.
Bradberry explains: “We’re sitting there around the table and Woody Chastain says, ‘hey, y’all remember Richard Tardits?’ Everybody’s like, ‘yeah?’ Woody said he’d been talking to David (Perno) and Richard has a son he wants to come over play football and they’re looking for a host family he could live with to come play.
“I said, ‘well, you know what? I might do that. That sounds like fun to me. But I do need to check with my wife.’”
Anybody who knows this Athens family will find it no surprise that Charme Bradberry also thought this would be a good idea. Two months later, Sam Tardits was moving into one of the Bradberry’s spare bedrooms. They had plenty of room since their three children – Lori (42 years old), Buck (36) and Maggie (34) – have long been gone from the house.
And Richard Tardits made it easy on his son’s adopted family. Jeb and Charme Bradberry didn’t even have to leave the house to claim their new child. Former Georgia linebackers Jeff Lewis and Frank Ros picked up the teen-aged Tardits at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta on July 7 and they delivered him to Bradberry’s driveway. The exchange was brokered by Richard, who had hosted the two Bulldogs at his home in France a few years ago, so Sam had some familiarity with them.
“Maybe it was just a face Sam would recognize,” Bradberry said. “Jeff told me they were holding up a sign that said ‘Tardits.’ When they got to my driveway, Jeff said, ‘now what’s your relationship to Richard; how do you know him?’ I said, ‘I’ve never met him.’ And I still haven’t.”
No, Bradberry did not know Richard personally, but he was thoroughly vetted for Richard through his Bulldog buddies. After all, at the heart of it, this is a UGA story.
Bradberry, co-owner of 5 Market Realty in Athens, is well known around the city and has deep ties with the university. A UGA alum, he is a close friend with Ray Goff and worked with him when Goff served Georgia as head football coach from 1989-95. So anybody who has been around the program since those days or has had anything to do with Athens Little League the last few decades knows Jeb Bradberry.
You can now count Sam Tardits among them.
“They’re really nice to me,” Sam said of the family he has had for a month now. “I’m having good fun here.”
Americans might shudder at the thought of packing up their 16-year-old and sending them overseas to stay with people they’ve never met. But, the fact is, that’s kind of how the Tardits roll. Sam has attended boarding school in France since he became a teen.
It was the very same circumstances under which Richard’s father, Maurice, sent him to Augusta, Ga., as an exchange student in the mid-1980s. Richard Tardits was actually supposed to head back to France after high school, but he liked American life so much he convinced his father to let him stay on one more year and start college at UGA. Remarkably, Richard managed to walk on with the Bulldogs’ football team as a freshman and earned himself a “battlefield scholarship” from head coach Vince Dooley in the spring of 1985.
Four years and 29 sacks later, Richard Tardits was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. He would play four years in the NFL and, in subsequent years, Richard traveled to Hong Kong to play professional rugby. That’s where he’d meet his British wife, Joanna. They had three children, Charlotte, Sam and Elodie.
Sam was born in Atlanta in 2000, and that’s another key element in this story. Because he was born in America, Sam Tardits is technically a U.S. citizen, even though he hadn’t lived here since he was 3 Therefore, he is eligible by Georgia High School Association rule to compete in athletics for as long as he remains enrolled in school.
There have been more than a few logistics involved, however. That’s where the Bradberrys have come in.
“I’m his temporary legal guardian while he’s in the United States,” Bradberry said. “We had to go down to the courthouse and do all that through the Probate Court. He’s all legalized and all that.”
Bradberry also had to oversee Sam’s academic transition at Clarke Central. That meant several trips to the guidance counselor’s office, which needed transcripts written in English rather than French, and other such details. But academics are an area Sam excels.
“Richard had emailed him and told him he wanted (Sam) to be in advanced math and physics,” Bradberry said. “So the guidance counselor says we’ll need to give you a course to see if you can do it.”
Sam passed with flying colors. He also was able to exempt some foreign language course requirements because he is fluent in three languages, English, French and Spanish.
Bradberry says his new “son” has flourished academically. In France, he has been away at boarding school for several years. There, they go to class nine hours a day for six weeks at a time, then take off two weeks.
Obviously, it’s different in the States. But Sam is getting used to it.
“I do quite like it here, yes,” he said. “I’ve met everybody on the team, and they’re very nice to me. I quite like them. And I’ve met quite a few girls, so, yeah, it’s fun. Everybody’s really nice. I like it.”
He even likes the food. His favorite discovery: Chick-fil-A.
The football part is taking some getting used to. Sam felt like a fish out of water at times when the Gladiators met Jefferson Thursday night, according to Bradberry. Jefferson won the game 52-10, but Tardits managed to make a few head-turning plays while going against college prospect at tackle.
“It’s a completely different sport,” Sam said of the differences in rugby. “You have to use the hands more than the shoulders and stuff like that. You have to be more precise. The football impacts are really different. That’s the hardest part. And the heat here is crazy. It’s really, really hot. And with the helmet it’s hotter.”
While Tardits’ football skills need developing, his athleticism is just fine. He has been turning his coaches heads since showing up for Clarke Central’s late-summer workouts last month.
“They tell me he might be the best athlete on the team,” Bradberry said. “He’s an animal.”
The thought is, with a couple of years to develop his football skills, Sam Tardits could end up on the same path as his father. It certainly served Richard well. Today he is an owner of a golf course, Country Club of Bigorre, owns a winery and does color commentary on the Super Bowl for French television every year.
Whether he can have the same success as his father in football, Sam is still trying to figure that out.
“I don’t really know,” Sam said. “I just want to do my best and try to go as far as I can. But nothing is planned. I don’t have a goal, not really.”
If nothing else, Sam said he is learning things he never knew about his father. He knew his father attended the University of Georgia and played football there. But he didn’t understand the fanatical following there is for the Bulldogs or what a cult hero Richard was and he had never heard the name “Le Sack.”
“A lot of people have told me about that. I didn’t really know before,” Sam said. “He doesn’t talk about it much.”
As for the end game for Sam, nobody is completely sure. The French national rugby team wants him back to play for them next year. But if American football goes well, Sam might hang around for a while like his dad did.
“I don’t know what he’s trying to get accomplished, whether he’s trying to get a college scholarship and get it paid for,” Bradberry said. “But the (Clarke Central) coaching staff sure does think he has some up side. They think he could be a D-1 prospect. He’s smart, he’s athletic. It depends on how well he picks everything up.
“But it ain’t like he ain’t got the genes. You know?”
Le Sack himself will be in Athens in one week to watch his son as Clarke Central opens the season against Winder-Barrow High. Bradberry is looking forward to finally meeting the father of his son.