It took Teair Tart more than 16 years to even start playing football. It took him four stops at junior colleges before he finally found a permanent home with the FIU Panthers. It took him a full season to become a regular starter in Miami and even then he played fewer than half of FIU’s defensive snaps his senior season. On Saturday, his circuitous path still managed to lead him to the NFL.
The Tennessee Titans signed Tart as an undrafted free agent Saturday after he went unselected in the 2020 NFL Draft. Two Panthers teammates were drafted — quarterback James Morgan went to the New York Jets in the fourth round and cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver went to the Carolina Panthers in the seventh — and Tart was one of two to sign quickly after the NFL Draft ended.
Although Tart started eight games for the Panthers in 2020, he was ultimately a part-time player, but the 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive lineman still managed to lead FIU with 10 1/2 tackles for loss. He earned an invitation to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and positioned himself as a sleeper despite a somewhat underwhelming final season in Miami.
Even his climb to play at FIU was unlikely, though. His original high school didn’t have football, so Tart, then 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, was an oversized basketball player. He eventually transferred to West Philadelphia in Philadelphia for his final two seasons of high school, but it wasn’t enough to earn him any Division I scholarships.
He began his college career at JUCO ASA College in New York before he quit after just six games because of his brother’s death. Tart then spent a semester at JUCO Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne, Pennsylvania, before transferring to JUCO East Mississippi Community College in Scooba. By then, he was garnering attention and even had an offer from the Alabama Crimson Tide, but the defensive lineman got kicked out of East Mississippi before he even played a game and Alabama pulled the offer.
Tart wound up at JUCO Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa, and only played two games before tearing the meniscus in his left knee. Still, FIU stuck by him and landed him as the prize of their Class of 2018. He signed a national letter of intent with FIU as a four-star defensive tackle, the No. 8 overall JUCO prospect in the 247Sports.com composite rankings for the 2018 recruiting class.
“It’s been a really long journey,” Tart said.
As a junior in 2018, Tart started twice and led FIU with four sacks. As a senior, he logged 32 total tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble to go along with his 10 1/2 tackles for loss.
Although Tart struggled with consistency throughout his time in South Florida, his raw talent and unorthodox background suggests untapped potential.
“I thought I knew a lot,” Tart said, “but it turned out that I didn’t know as much as I thought.”
Anthony Jones goes to Seahawks
Anthony Jones also signed shortly after the completion of the Draft on Saturday. The running back landed with the Seattle Seahawks after going undrafted this weekend. Still, he’s headed to the NFL less than two years after he was nearly killed in a drive-by shooting.
Jones, who played at Miami Central, was poised to take over as FIU’s top running back in 2018 before he was shot in the back and face after just one game. It took him nearly three months to return to action and he finally broke out in the 2018 Bahamas Bowl, running for 92 yards and three touchdowns in Nassau. He finished his junior season with 338 yards and six touchdowns on 67 carries, plus another 37 yards and two touchdowns on 10 catches.
Jones returned fully healthy for his senior season in 2019 and led FIU with 990 yards from scrimmage. The tailback ran for 867 yards and nine touchdowns on 187 carries, and added another 123 yards and two touchdowns on 10 receptions.