Central Valley High School grad Ja’Quan Gardner spent the past month in Texas training for the inaugural season of the Alliance of American Football league.
He returned to California on Thursday.
Gardner and three other running backs earned spots on the San Diego Fleet’s 52-man roster.
The announcement was made on Jan. 30.
“I’m itching to get back on the field."Ja’Quan Gardner
“I’m itching to get back on the field,” he said. “It definitely was a long process. My hard work is paying off now. The end goal is to get to the NFL. That’s what this league was made for. But I’m focused on this week.”
A total of 72 players attended San Diego’s training camp, which started on Jan. 4 and ended on Feb. 4.
“It was mentally and physically draining,” Gardner said. “But that’s part of the game. I tried to do my best each and every day during practice and meetings. Now, I have to do my job and prove why I’m there. I’m just thankful to be able to showcase my talent in this league.”
The Fleet are coached by Mike Martz, offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams’ 1999 Super Bowl championship team.
“Everyone knows he’s an offensive genius,” Gardner said. “He demands greatness from his players. He’s all about the details. His game plan is to play fast and physical. We’re going to try to put a lot of points on the board. I’m all for that. Whatever my role is, I’m going to do it.”
Gardner last played in an official football game during his senior year at Humboldt State in 2017.
He signed a contract as a rookie free agent with the San Francisco 49ers in August. A longshot to make the team’s 53-man regular-season roster due to his late signing, Gardner was released by the 49ers following their final preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
“I’m excited to be back on the field,” said Gardner, Humboldt State’s and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s all-time greatest running back. “There are pros and cons for not playing for a year and a half. I’m 100 percent healthy now. I feel great.”
San Diego will open the 2019 campaign on the road against the San Antonio Commanders on Feb. 9.
“This is just the beginning,” Gardner said. “We have the whole season ahead of us. It’s going to be fun. We have a solid team. We got a great coaching staff. Our goal is to get to the playoffs.”