Whether it's in the weight room, at practice or during games, Ja'Quan Gardner always gives his best effort.
The 2014 Central Valley High School graduate is a star football player at Humboldt State.
"I'm not just playing for myself," Gardner said. "I'm playing for my family, friends and people that support me back home. They've always had faith in me."
"I talked to Ja'Quan at our graduation," Central Valley athletic director Greg Magni said. "He's the same person. He hasn't changed in a bad way. He has a great personality. He cares about his teammates. He still has an impact on the kids at our school. They look up to him. He's a great role model."
Already considered the program's all-time greatest running back, Gardner will add to his legacy this fall during his final season with the Lumberjacks.
"There's no added pressure," he said. "I'm just having fun. I don't worry about stats. I just want to win games."
Gardner broke 10 team records during his first three years at Humboldt State, including rushing yardage in a career (4,121), rushing yardage in a season (2,266), rushing yardage in a single game (313), touchdowns scored in a career (53), touchdowns scored in a season (25), touchdowns scored in a game (5), points scored in a career (318), points scored in a season (150), points scored in a game (30) and longest rushing play (87).
Ja'Quan gained 1,300 yards and scored 18 TDs while helping the Lumberjacks secure their third straight winning season in 2016.
He was selected to the NCAA Division-II Conference Commissioner's Association All-America Team for the second consecutive year.
He finished second in voting for the Harlon Hill award, the D2 football's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, as a sophomore. Gardner was named Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He ranked first in the nation in rushing yards (2,266), rushing yards per game (188.8) and rushing touchdowns (25).
"I have a great supporting cast," Gardner said.
Humboldt State compiled a 6-5 overall record and placed third in the GNAC standings (3-5) last fall.
In 2015, the Lumberjacks finished 10-2 and earned their first playoff win in 47 years.
Humboldt State captured the conference championship with a perfect 6-0 mark.
The Lumberjacks were picked to finish third in the 2017 GNAC preseason coaches poll.
"Team-wise, we got a lot to prove," Gardner said. "We want to be better than what we were last year. We want to show we're one of the top competitors in the GNAC and nation."
Magni watched Gardner and the Lumberjacks compete in person for the fourth time on Sept. 9.
Ja'Quan rushed for 168 yards and three touchdowns as Humboldt State upset then-No. 8 Azusa Pacific 30-19 in Glendora.
"I bet there are many Division-I programs that wished they took a chance on No. 32 (Gardner)," Magni said. "He's about as good as they get. I'm not surprised at what he's doing. He'll keep succeeding because of his talent and desire."
A standout football player since his childhood, Ja'Quan aspires to earn a spot on an NFL roster in the near future.
"There have been a couple of scouts at practice," Gardner said. "If the opportunity is there at the next level, I'll take it. It's another dream of mine. I definitely want to keep playing after college. I have a pure love for the game. This is what I live for. The ups and downs. The heartbreak. All of it."