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Gardner a humble superstar
JaQuan Gardner - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Humboldt State's football program has been on the rise since Central Valley High School grad Ja'Quan Gardner arrived on campus in 2014.

The 2015 Great Northwest Athletic Conference champion Lumberjacks have even started to generate national media attention.

Humboldt State's season-opening game versus host Carson-Newman of Tennessee will be broadcast live on ESPN3 at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 1.

"We've gained a lot of respect from other programs over the last two years," the 5-foot-7 195-pound junior running back said. "This is what we've been working for. There's a lot of excitement in the community. It's great to get the support."

Already considered one of Humboldt State's greatest players, Gardner will add to his legacy this fall.

"I don't really put too much thought into that," Ja'Quan said. "I just love playing football. If success comes, that's great. Hopefully, we can repeat as GNAC champs and make playoffs again. I'll do whatever I can to help my team win ball games. We just have to stay focused and take it one game at a time."

Gardner had a sensational sophomore season with the Lumberjacks.

One of eight finalists for the Harlon Hill award, NCAA Division-II football's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, Gardner finished second overall.

"I got a chance to sit back and think about it," he said. "It was crazy. I had a good season. But football is a team game. It's not an individual game. Without my teammates, it would be tough to do the things I do. I wouldn't have success if I was the only person out there. I really appreciate my guys. We play for each other, not for ourselves."

Gardner climbed to No. 2 on Humboldt State's career rushing list in 2015.

He's racked up 2,873 yards and 33 touchdowns through two seasons.

Ja'Quan led the nation in rushing yards (2,266), rushing yards per game (188.8) and rushing touchdowns (25) last fall.

He broke the Lumberjacks' single-season and single-game rushing yard records.

He shattered the GNAC's single-season rushing yard and carries marks as well.

Gardner matched a program record with five TD runs as Humboldt State routed the South Dakota Mines 59-10.

He totaled a team-record 305 yards in the Lumberjacks' 34-16 Homecoming win against two-time defending GNAC champion Azusa Pacific.

Gardner ran for 246 yards and two touchdowns during fourth-seeded Humboldt State's 45-31 victory over No. 5 Augustana in the Super Region Three playoff bracket.

Ja'Quan was named to the Division-II Conference Commissioner's Association All-America First Team.

He was selected to the American Football Coaches Association All-America Team.

He was voted to the CCA All-Region First Team.

Ja'Quan won the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year award.

He was also a unanimous All-GNAC First-Team selection.

"I've been here two years already," Gardner said. "The game comes much easier to me. Now that I'm an upperclassman, I try to help the younger guys. It's my responsibility. Hopefully, we keep getting better. The goal is to always improve."

A preseason First-Team All-American selection, Gardner will once again fill a major role as Humboldt State attempts to extend its recent run of success.

The 2015 Lumberjacks posted a 10-2 overall record and earned their first postseason win in 47 years.

Humboldt State captured the GNAC championship outright with a 6-0 mark.

"You just got to stay focused on what you're doing," Ja'Quan said. "You got to put the work in. Only you can stop yourself. I'm doing what I love to do. I'm thankful. I'm living a dream."