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The dream is alive for Gardner
• Gardner strives to join ex-Humboldt football teammate in NFL
Gardner at bench
Former Central Valley High School standout running back Ja’Quan Gardner hasn’t given up on his dream of playing in the NFL.

Ja’Quan Gardner will be rooting for Alex Cappa and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they play against the Washington Football Team in the opening round of the NFL Playoffs this Saturday.

Gardner and Cappa both filled major roles while starring on Humboldt State’s football team from 2014-17.

Cappa, an offensive lineman, was selected by the Buccaneers in the third round of the 2018 Draft.

Gardner has suited up for teams in three different professional leagues.

“Every now and then, we text,” said Gardner, a 2014 Central Valley High School grad. “He’ll check up on me. I’m happy for him. I’m not surprised one bit by his success. I saw firsthand his work ethic and talent. And it’s translated at the pro level. He’s always been that guy. He’s a monster.”

“I’ve been lucky enough to play in multiple leagues,” he added. “Hopefully, I get a tryout in the NFL. That’s where I want to be. What drives me is I have the ability to play at that level.”

Gardner signed with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2018. He provided depth at running back during the organization’s final preseason game. A long-shot to make the team’s 53-man regular-season roster due to his late signing, Gardner was released.

Gardner made a name for himself during the inaugural season of Alliance of American Football prior to having his season cut short by a right-shoulder injury in March of 2019. The AAF ended up suspending all operations due to a lack of funding.

Gardner ranked eighth in rushing yards (311) in the league.

He scored three touchdowns.

He averaged 4.9 yards per carry.

Gardner was named the AAF’s Offensive Player of the Week after setting multiple records in the Fleet’s 31-11 home win over the San Antonio Commanders.

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 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 AAF’s first three games.

Gardner was selected by the Seattle Dragons in the fifth and final phase of the XFL Draft in October of 2019.

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.

Gardner totaled 127 yards on 35 carries while splitting playing time at running back for the Dragons, who compiled a 1-4 record while finishing in fourth place in the West.

His most productive performance came against the Dallas Renegades. Gardner rushed for a team-high 37 yards on eight attempts.

Seattle played its final game on March 7 as sports leagues across the United States postponed and/or canceled their 2020 seasons to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The rebooted XFL filed for bankruptcy in April and was purchased by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and his business partners for $15 million in August.

The league will return in the spring of 2022.

Gardner will be prepared to prove himself if he gets signed by a team from the NFL, CFL or XFL.

“I’m definitely missing football right now,” he said. “I miss the preparation, practices and competitiveness. It gets me fired up seeing Cappa perform. I’ll let my play do the talking if I get an opportunity to showcase my abilities.”

Gardner and Cappa were both named to the  2010-19 All-Decade Team.

A total of 50 players were recognized.

The All-Decade Team was selected by staff from the website with input from coaches across the country.

Gardner enjoyed a record-breaking career at Humboldt State.

He shattered 10 team records, including rushing yards in a career (5,426), rushing yards in a single season (2,266), rushing yards in a single game (313), touchdowns scored in a career (93), touchdowns scored in a season (25), touchdowns scored in a game (5), points scored in a career (450), points scored in a season (150), points scored in a game (36) and longest rushing play.

Gardner was runner-up for the Harlon Hill award, the NCAA Division-II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, in 2015. He ranked first in the nation in rushing yards (2,266), rushing yards per game (188.8) and rushing touchdowns (25). Humboldt State compiled a 10-2 overall record, won the Great Northwest Athletic Conference title outright with a perfect 6-0 mark and collected its first postseason victory in 47 years.

Gardner became the GNAC’s all-leader in career touchdowns scored (75), points scored (450), all-purpose yards (6,979), all-purpose yards per game (170-2), rushing attempts (878), rushing yards (5,426) and rushing touchdowns (70) in 2017.

He set conference single-game marks with 446 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns, and tied another league record with five rushing TDs during Humboldt State’s 52-49 Homecoming win over Azusa Pacific. Gardner’s performance earned him GNAC Offensive Player of the Week honors for a record-tying ninth time.

A three-time D2 Conference Commissioners Association All-American, Gardner was voted GNAC Offensive Player of the Year twice.

He was also named an All-American by the Associated Press and American Football Coaches Association.