Central Valley High School grad Ja’Quan Gardner made his coaching debut this past week.
Gardner was an assistant on Mountain House head coach Jason McCloskey’s staff at the 46th Central California Lions All-Star High School Football Game.
Gardner, who is currently rehabbing a shoulder injury and plans to continue his football career at the pro level once he makes a full recovery, played two seasons under McCloskey’s guidance at Central Valley High School.
“He coached the running backs for us,” McCloskey said. “He did awesome. The guys respected and really responded to him. He was a natural.”
Gardner agreed to join McCloskey’s coaching staff after the two reunited at Buffalo Wild Wings in Modesto.
“I bought him a personalized Under Armour coaching polo shirt,” McCloskey said. “He became coach Gardner for a week. He was my peer. Once the kids found out who he was, they watched his highlights. Ja’Quan was there all week with us. We stayed at University of Pacific in the dorms where they housed players. We practiced three times a day. We hung out. We watched the NBA Finals. We had a lot of fun.”
The McCloskey-led North team edged the South team 19-18 on Saturday.
The North compiled an 0-5-1 record against the South the past six meetings.
“It was the first time the North won in seven years,” McCloskey said. “There was a lot of pressure on me to bring the victory home.”
McCloskey was asked to coach during the Lions All-Star Game after leading Mountain House to a 10-2 overall record, a three-way tie for first place in the Western Athletic Conference (6-1) and a Sac-Joaquin Section Division-V playoff berth last fall.
“They recognized the good work I did in a short time,” said McCloskey, who will begin his sixth season coaching the Mustangs during the 2019-20 school year.
Gardner played in the Lions and North-South Rotary All-Star Football games after enjoying a record-breaking career at running back with Central Valley.
He helped lead the Hawks to their first-ever playoff appearance and winning record in 2013. Gardner broke the Stanislaus District’s career and single-season rushing yard records. The three-year standout racked up 2,467 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2013. Ja’Quan ranks first on the District’s career rushing yards list (6,014). He tallied a program-best 67 TDs in 31 games.
Gardner brought national attention to Humboldt State’s football program.
A three-time D2 Conference Commissioners Association All-American, Gardner was twice voted Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
He was also named an All American by the Associated Press and American Football Coaches Association.
Ja’Quan became the GNAC’s all-time 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).
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.
He shattered 10 team records during his first three seasons at Humboldt State, including rushing yardage in a career, rushing yardage in a season, rushing yardage in a single game, touchdowns scored in a career, touchdowns scored in a season, touchdowns scored in a game, points scored in a career, points scored in a season, points scored in a game and longest rushing play.
Gardner was runner-up for the Harlon Hill award in 2015, the NCAA Division-II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. 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 GNAC title outright with a perfect 6-0 mark and collected its first postseason victory in 47 years.
Gardner suited up for the San Francisco 49ers during their final preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers leading up to the 2018 campaign on Aug. 30.
Gardner mostly recently played for the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football League, which suspended all operations for the remainder of its inaugural season in April.
He ranked eighth in rushing yards (311) in the AAF.
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 on Feb. 24.
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 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 put on the injured-reserve list after partially tearing his labrum in his right shoulder in a 32-15 loss to the Arizona Hotshots on March 24.
“We still have big hopes for him,” McCloskey said. “He’s a guy that loves the game. He’ll probably pursue coaching when he’s done playing. He’ll have a spot on my roster as a coach anytime he wants.”