49ers select safety Jaquiski Tartt with second-round pick
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Jaquiski Tartt spoke to good friend Jimmie Ward just last week about how great it would be if the old high school teammates from Mobile, Alabama, ended up as safeties together on the same NFL team.
Back home, waiting for what the Samford defender expected to be a call in the third or fourth round of the draft, the phone rang on Friday night and 49ers coach Jim Tomsula was on the other end with news that he would be headed to San Francisco - and reunited with Ward despite the odds they had known were slim.
''We played together in high school and we talked about this day, it would be crazy to get on the same team,'' Tartt said Friday night, en route to the university fieldhouse to celebrate with his Samford teammates. ''It actually happened. It's crazy.''
Tartt was selected at 46th overall in the second round - the highest pick ever for a player from his university - before San Francisco chose Virginia linebacker Eli Harold at 79th in the third round. Both players are considered four-down options, and general manager Trent Baalke was a bit surprised Harold was still available.
San Francisco looked to add a linebacker in the draft following the surprising retirements of five-time All Pro linebacker Patrick Willis and then Chris Borland shortly thereafter this offseason because of Borland's concerns about head trauma.
Tartt provides the 49ers further depth in a secondary that lost two more key faces this offseason when cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver signed elsewhere in free agency. Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and hard-hitting safety Donte Whitner departed last offseason, Dashon Goldson before that.
Yet with Antoine Bethea, Eric Reid and Ward already in the mix at safety, Tartt was a bit surprised the Niners added another.
''I was honestly expecting third or fourth round, maybe, but I ended up in the second. I'm just thankful,'' he said. ''I see myself playing special teams. I want to get out on special teams, make my name on special teams and learn as much as I can from Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid.''
At 6-foot-1, 218 pounds, Tartt has the height, wingspan and physical presence Baalke likes in the backfield. He also is considered a strong tackler in the open field.
''We said we were going to go big and stay big in this draft, and we have,'' Baalke said. ''Competition's good.''
Baalke said that Ward's two foot surgeries and three concussions for Reid didn't factor into adding depth.
Tartt might be competing with Ward for playing time, and that's OK. During college, they would regularly exchange text messages challenging each other to reach certain tackle or interception totals.
''That's going to make us better,'' said Tartt, who had been working out in Pensacola, Florida, after he was limited by an ankle injury at the NFL combine. Tartt met with the 49ers at the Senior Bowl.
Tartt's 62 tackles were good for second on the team during his senior season, when he also had an interception and a pass breakup. As a junior, he played with a torn right labrum in his shoulder that meant ''there were a lot of times my arm just went dead and numb.''
Given Tartt expected to go much later in the draft, that unexpected call was a special surprise.
''I was ecstatic,'' he said. ''I end up on the team with my best friend.''
Tartt explained his unique name, too, pronounced Juh-QUAH-skee. His mother had chosen Quiski when a special aunt stepped in with the idea of adding the Ja to the front.
''My mom, she wanted to call my Quiski, but my auntie is real close, they're good friends and my auntie's like, `add Ja to it,' that's what happened,'' he said.
Tartt didn't even play high school football until his senior season at Davidson High. His late grandfather, Alfred Lewis, had always wanted to see him play but didn't get the chance.
''My granddad was somebody special in my life,'' Tartt said. ''That weighed real heavy on me.''
Harold, too, is playing for loved ones lost.
In late 2010 he suddenly lost a nephew he considered a brother because of a heart issue, then his mother, Sheila Korvette, in January 2011 from cancer.
''I've had a chip on my shoulder ever since I lost my brother and my mom a month apart,'' he said. ''This is just adding fuel to my fire not having teams believe in me. ... I'll never forget this moment, like I'll never forget the day my mother passed away. From that moment I feel like I was a ball of fire.''
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