Ja'Quan Gardner didn't set any individual goals prior to the start of the 2015 season.
The Humboldt State sophomore running back/2014 Central Valley High School grad fell short of winning the Harlon Hill award, the NCAA Division-II football's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
Gardner finished second in voting.
"Second place is nothing to be ashamed of," Central Valley athletic director Greg Magni said. "We're just so proud of him. Not just because of his success on the field. He's such a great young man. He's so humble. I sent him a text the night before the event. He got right back to me. He doesn't forget where he comes from."
Gardner, mother Stacey, sister Roneesia and grandparents Luvell and Sharon watched a live webcast of the 30th Annual Harlon Hill Trophy presentation just after 11 a.m. on Friday in Stockton.
"It was a proud moment not only for me but for my family and school," Ja'Quan said. "A lot of people were watching. I was planning on leaving my grandparents' house and going to Ceres. My grandpa turned it on. It was fun watching their reaction. They were definitely pleased."
One of eight finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy, Gardner received 107 votes.
Quarterback Jason Vander Laan of Farris State won the award for the second straight year. He had 217 votes.
"It's an honor to finish in second place," Gardner said. "I don't consider it a loss. I'm definitely not disappointed. I'm getting recognition for myself and school. I give a lot of credit to my coaches, teammates, family and friends. I got a great support system. I lean on them a lot. I'm so thankful for them."
Ja'Quan has already established himself as one of the Humboldt State's all-time greatest running backs.
He climbed to No. 2 on the Lumberjacks' career rushing list this year.
Gardner's racked up 2,873 yards and 33 touchdowns through two seasons.
"I really didn't set any individual goals," Gardner said. "I just wanted to help my team win games. It's definitely surprising to be doing it this early. It usually takes time to adjust to the next level. I got my feet wet last year. Patience is a big thing. I'm going to try to get better. I'm going to be an upperclassman. Now, it's time for me to help out the younger guys."
Gardner ranked first in the nation in rushing yards (2,266), rushing yards per game (188.8) and rushing touchdowns (25).
Ja'Quan broke Humboldt State's 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 South Dakota Mines 59-10 on Oct. 3.
He totaled a team-record 305 yards in the Lumberjacks' 34-16 Homecoming win against two-time defending GNAC champion Azusa Pacific on Oct. 10.
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 on Nov. 21.
Ja'Quan was named to the Division-II Conference Commissioner's Association All-America First Team on Dec. 15.
He was selected to the American Football Coaches Association All-America Team on Dec. 10.
He was voted to the CCA All-Region First Team on Dec. 3.
Ja'Quan won the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year award on Nov. 18.
He was also a unanimous All-GNAC First-Team selection.
Humboldt State compiled a 10-2 overall record and collected its first postseason win in 47 years this fall.
The Lumberjacks won the GNAC title outright with a perfect 6-0 mark.
Gardner filled a key role as Humboldt State experienced a major turnaround in 2014.
The Lumberjacks posted an 8-2 record and placed second in the GNAC standings (4-2)).
Humboldt State dropped all 11 of its games in 2013.
Ja'Quan was selected to the all-GNAC Second Team his freshman year.
He ranked second on the team in rushing yards (607), touchdowns (8) and carries (88).
Gardner broke the Stanislaus District's career and single-season rushing yard records while starring on Central Valley High School's varsity football team for three seasons.
Ja'Quan rumbled for 2,467 yards and 27 touchdowns his senior year.
He totaled 6,014 yards and 67 TDs in 31 career games.
Gardner helped the Hawks reach their team goal of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in 2013. Central Valley also secured its first-ever winning record (6-5).
"He is way better now than he was in high school, which is saying a lot," said Jason McCloskey, who coached Gardner at the prep level during his senior and junior years. "He's a ball of muscle who can fly at you and juke you out of your socks. He's a true team player. He deflects all the praise and gives it to everybody else."
Ja'Quan has experienced individual and team success on the gridiron at every level.
"The goal is to get better," Gardner said. "Northwest Missouri, the team we lost to in the playoffs, won the national championship yesterday. We want to get to that level."