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A healthy Gardner ready to perform
Former CV star will fill key role with Lumbjacks
JaQuan Gardner will begin his sophomore campaign with Humboldt States football team versus Western Oregon on Sept. 5. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Former Central Valley High School star running back Ja'Quan Gardner was sidelined with a shoulder sprain during the Humboldt State football team's annual Green & Gold Scrimmage last month.

"I fell on my shoulder when I got tackled," Ja'Quan said. "I'm good now. I'm 100 percent. We start fall camp on August 12. It's exciting to get back on the field. I can't wait."

Gardner filled a key role as Humboldt State experienced a major turnaround last fall.

The Lumberjacks compiled an 8-2 overall record and tied for second place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standings (4-2) with Central Washington (7-4, 4-2) and Western Oregon (6-5, 4-2).

Humboldt State dropped all 11 of its games in 2013.

Ja'Quan was selected to the all-GNAC Second Team his freshman year.

He ranked second on the team in rushing yards (607), touchdowns (8) and carries (88).

He averaged a team-leading 6.9 yards per carry.

Gardner caught eight passes for 125 yards and one TD.
He totaled 193 yards on six kickoff returns.

Gardner ran for a team-leading 156 yards and one TD on 17 carries as Humboldt State opened the 2014 season with a 27-14 victory over host Texas A&M Kingsville.

The win snapped a 13-game losing streak dating back to 2012.

Ja'Quan was selected GNAC Offensive Player of the Week after rumbling for 141 yards and two TDs in the Lumberjacks' 30-10 upset of Azusa Pacific.

Gardner's totaled a team-high 297 rushing yards, to go along with three scores, through Humboldt State's first two games.

"You have to take advantage of every opportunity you have on the field," Gardner said.

Gardner will be a bigger factor in Humboldt State's running game this year.

"He is an explosive player, and he has the ability to be the best player on the field," Lumberjacks' Offensive Coordinator Eric Tripp. "Ja'Quan has the potential to be the best running back in the conference."

Gardner split carries with senior Nick Ricciardulli (210-1,061-9) and freshman Richard Doctor (67-349-6) during his first season with the Lumberjacks.

Ricciardulli was selected to the GNAC First Team.

"We have a lot of talent at running back," Gardner said. "I'll be ready for whatever I'm asked to do. I just want to contribute."

Humboldt State opens the 2015 season against visiting Western Oregon on Sept. 5. The Lumberjacks will also compete against Azusa Pacific, Dixie State University, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Midwestern State University, Central Washington University and Simon Fraser University.

Humboldt State will play home and away games against both Western Oregon and Dixie State.

"Everybody is excited," Gardner said. "We got a great team. We can pass and run the ball. We just got to go out there and execute. We were only a few wins away from our goal last year. We want to win the GNAC championship. We have the pieces to do it."

Gardner, a three-year varsity starter in football at Central Valley, broke the Stanislaus District's career and single-season rushing yard records.

Ja'Quan rumbled for 2,467 yards and 27 touchdowns his senior year.

He totaled 6,014 yards and 67 TDs in 31 career games.

Gardner helped the Hawks reach their team goal of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in 2013. Central Valley also secured its first-ever winning record (6-5).

Ja'Quan earned a full-ride scholarship to Division-II Humboldt State.

"It's a blessing," he said. "A lot of kids don't get to do that. I'm just thankful for the opportunity Humboldt State has given me. I still get the same excitement every game."

Jamarea Lumpkin, Gardner's younger brother, will play running back and safety for Central Valley this fall.

"It's crazy," Ja'Quan said. "Time flies by so fast. We're two different kinds of players. He's much more physical than me. Hopefully, he'll do well."

Crosstown-rival Ceres High eliminated Central Valley from playoff consideration on the final day of the 2014 season. The Bulldogs snapped a seven-year losing streak against the Hawks with a surprising 24-7 victory. Lumpkin rushed for a team-high 63 yards in defeat.

"I feel like they're going to come back hungry," Gardner said. "They looked pretty good at the Manteca camp. They just got to stay focused."