In all likelihood, Ja’Quan Gardner would have been invited to an NFL training camp this summer had he not suffered a shoulder injury in March while playing for the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football League.
“Everything happens for a reason,” the 2014 Central Valley High School grad/former Humboldt State star running back said. “If I belong there, I’ll get there. My main focus is rehabbing my right shoulder and getting it back to 100 percent. I have no doubt in my ability to play at that level. It’s all about getting the opportunity.”
Gardner’s next playing opportunity could be in the reformed XFL, a professional American football league owned by WWE Chairman/CEO Vince McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment.
The XFL previously ran for a single season in 2001.
XFL officials evaluated talent for the 2020 season at invite-only workouts this summer.
Gardner and seven other running backs attended the Los Angeles Showcase on June 21 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Long Beach.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get to compete because I’m not fully recovered from my injury,” Gardner said. “But I thought it was really important for me to show up. I met the coaching staff and a couple scouts from other XFL teams.”
The XFL will stage its first player draft in October.
Each of the league’s eight teams, including Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington D.C., will select 70 players.
Training camps will be staged in November.
“It’s a waiting process,” Gardner said. “You have to stay patient and motivated.”
The 2020 XFL season will kick off after the NFL Super Bowl.
“The league starts in February,” Gardner said. “They’ll put on a great show for the fans. Hopefully, I can be a part of it. Any opportunity to play football is exciting for me. I just love the sport. I should be cleared very soon.”
Gardner had surgery in April to repair a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder.
He rehabs twice a week at Select Physical Therapy in Stockton.
He trains up to four times a week at Bonsu Elite Athletics in Ceres.
“I’m not going to let this deter me,” Gardner said. “Football is not over for me. I’m preparing for the next opportunity. I’m pretty confident I’ll get a shot somewhere.”
Gardner made a name for himself during the inaugural season of the AAF.
He was named the league’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 also 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 league’s first three games.
Gardner was put on the injured-reserve list following San Diego’s 32-15 loss to the Arizona Hotshots on March 24.
He ranked eighth in rushing yards (311) in the AAF.
He scored three touchdowns.
He averaged 4.9 yards per carry.
Gardner provided depth at running back during the San Francisco 49ers’ final 2018 preseason game. A longshot to make the team’s 53-man regular-season roster due to his late signing, Gardner was released.
Gardner brought national attention to Humboldt State’s football program.
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.
He was runner-up for the Harlon Hill award, the NCAA Division-II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, as a sophomore 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-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) 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.
He rushed for 1,259 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season.
A three-time D2 Conference Commissioners Association All-American, Gardner was voted GNAC Offensive Player of the Year for the second time.
He was also named an All American by the Associated Press and American Football Coaches Association.
Gardner was the recipient of the Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club’s College/Open Men’s Division and Male High School Outstanding Athlete Awards in 2017 and 2014, respectively.
Gardner, a three-year starter at Central Valley, broke the Stanislaus District's single-season rushing yards record during his final season with the Hawks.
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.
He helped Central Valley reach its team goal of qualifying for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the first time in 2013. The Hawks also posted their first-ever winning record (6-5).