Central Valley High School grad Ja’Quan Gardner was watching television at a friend’s house in Modesto on Oct. 16 when he found out the Seattle Dragons selected him in the fifth and final phase of the XFL Draft.
“I didn’t know I got picked,” said Gardner, who wasn’t notified via phone. “I looked at the Seattle list and my name was on there. The running backs coach (Butch Goncharoff) sent me an email to confirm it. I gave him a call. It was a brief conversation. We talked about expectations. I’m excited to get back on the field. It’s another step in my journey.”
The draft pool of more than 1,000 players featured talent from Power-5 NCAA Division-I schools, Division I-AA, Division II, Division III, NAIA and junior colleges.
“Whether you go No. 1 or last, you got to go on the field and prove yourself,” Gardner said. “Now, the real work begins. I’m going to showcase myself to the best of my ability.”
“We’re believers,” Central Valley High School Athletic Director Greg Magni said. “We know what he can do. Now, he can show the rest of the world what he’s capable of. He’s not going to get outworked.”
“I’m excited for him,” CVHS junior running back Isaiah Hidalgo said. “It’s like seeing my brother get drafted. We’ve been pretty close for the past year. He’s my idol. The last time I talked with him was after the Ceres game. He said he could see a big difference in me from last year until now.”
Gardner received countless text and social media messages from well-wishers after being drafted by the Dragons.
“I can’t even count,” he said. “There’s been a lot of love. I want to thank everyone from up and down the Valley and elsewhere for supporting me. It really means a lot.”
“A lot of people in our football program see Ja’Quan as a mentor figure, inspiration and positive influence,” Magni stated. “I’ve never heard a person say a bad thing about him.”
Gardner’s family and friends plan to travel to Seattle to watch him play.
“That’s one of the teams I was hoping would pick me,” said Gardner, who will be striving to earn a spot on the Dragon’s game-day roster. “I get to stay on the West Coast. My mom and grandpa are super excited. It’s driving distance. My mom doesn’t like to fly.”
The 2020 XFL campaign will kick off in February.
Gardner starred at running back with the San Diego Fleet earlier this year in the Alliance of American Football League, which got underway in February and ended prematurely due to funding issues.
He was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Week after setting multiple records in the Fleet’s 31-11 home win over the San Antonio Commanders on Feb. 24.
He rushed for an AAF single-game record 122 yards.
He raced 83 yards for a TD in the third quarter. It was the longest scoring play in Alliance history.
Gardner also became the first player in AAF history to post back-to-back 100-plus yard games.
He had a league-leading 281 rushing yards through the league’s first three games prior to having his season cut short by a shoulder injury.
Gardner was put on the injured-reserve list following San Diego’s 32-15 loss to the Arizona Hotshots on March 24.
He had surgery in April to repair a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder.
He rehabbed twice a week for five months at Select Physical Therapy in Stockton.
“You control what you can control,” Gardner said while talking about his recovery process. “What motivates me is I want to prove the people that believe in me right.”
“We’ve been very fortunate at Central Valley to have a lot of kids move on and have success in college,” Magni said. “This is another level. It’s special. To play pro in anything you do is the ultimate example of being great.”