Ja’Quan Gardner’s football story is still being written. The 2014 Central Valley High School grad/205-pound running back will find out today if he gets selected during the United States Football League’s inaugural Player Draft.
“I saw something about the USFL a couple months ago,” said Gardner, 26. “I told my agent that was something I wanted to be a part of. In order to be eligible for the draft, you had to sign a contract. Thousands of people applied from what I read.”
“Hopefully, I get an opportunity to play ball again,” he added. “That’s all I want to do.”
The USFL Player Draft will be staged in Birmingham, Ala.
The draft pool features more than 450 players.
Each franchise will have 38 active players and a seven-man practice squad at the beginning of the season.
The USFL will debut on April 22.
The league will have eight teams: Michigan Panthers, Tampa Bay Bandits, Philadelphia Stars, New Jersey Generals, Houston Gamblers, Birmingham Stallions, Pittsburgh Maulers and New Orleans Breakers.
The regular season will consist of a 10-game schedule, followed by semifinals and the championship. The top teams from each division will battle for the championship.
“I’ve been working out four times a week to make sure I’m prepared,” Gardner said. “When the opportunity comes, I’ll be ready to showcase myself.”
Gardner has suited up for teams in three different professional leagues.
He 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.
“It meant a lot,” he said. “There’s not a higher level of football. Not everybody gets that opportunity. I was one of the top one percent. It definitely gives you confidence. Hopefully, I can get back to that level.”
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.
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, 2020 as sports leagues across the United States postponed and/or canceled their seasons to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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 2023.
“I haven’t played in almost two years,” Gardner said. “It’s a long time to take off. But I’m still confident in my abilities. The most challenging part is staying patient and motivated. It’s been tough. A coach taught me a long time ago you can control what you can control. I chose not to be frustrated. I’ve enjoyed spending time with my family and friends. I still have a lot of football left in me. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. My journey is not over. When the opportunity comes, I’ll be ready for it.”
Gardner enjoyed a record-breaking career at Humboldt State.
He was named to the D2Football.com 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.
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.
Gardner, a three-year starter, broke the Stanislaus District’s single-season rushing yards record during his final season at Central Valley.
He totaled 2,467 yards and 27 touchdowns in 11 games. Homer Garza set the previous mark (2,195) in 1997 with Hughson.
Gardner was voted USA Today/Asics Ultimate Athlete of the Year.
He was selected to the Cal-Hi Sports medium schools’ first-team offense.
He was named to the MaxPreps All-Northern California and All-Sac-Joaquin Section first teams.
He also won the Western Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player award.
Gardner ranked first on the Stanislaus District’s career rushing yards list (6,014) when he graduated from Central Valley. He eclipsed Central Catholic star Louis Bland’s all-time record. Bland (2004-07) piled up 5,140 yards in 47 games.
Gardner tallied a program-best 67 TDs.