It was a whirlwind experience for 2014 Central Valley High School grad/former Humboldt State star running back Ja’Quan Gardner.
Gardner inked a contract as a rookie free agent with the San Francisco 49ers on Aug. 28.
He attended practices and team meetings prior to suiting up for Thursday’s preseason finale against the Los Angeles Chargers.
A longshot to make San Francisco’s 53-man regular-season roster due to his late signing, Gardner was released by the 49ers on Friday along with 11 other players.
“I’m not ashamed. I got to do something not a lot of people get to do. It was a dream come true. I’m not done playing. I’m motivated to get back to that level.”Ja'Quan Gardner
“I’m not ashamed,” he said. “I got to do something not a lot of people get to do. It was a dream come true. I’m not done playing. I’m motivated to get back to that level.”
The 49ers brought in Gardner to provide depth at running back versus the Chargers.
“The three days I was there, I really tried to take everything in,” he said. “I had to really focus in on trying to learn the system but also made time to enjoy every bit of the experience. It’s everything you dream of, the meetings and practices, endless amounts of food. It’s definitely something I’ll never forget. They’re a classy organization. I have no doubt they’re going to do great this year.”
Gardner did not play during San Francisco’s 23-21 loss to Los Angeles.
“Having the jersey on, running out the tunnel, being on the field, it was unbelievable,” he said. “It gave me confidence. There are no words to describe how I was feeling. I definitely wanted some carries. Everything happens for a reason. I’ll get my chance when it’s my time.”
Gardner chatted with family members, friends and other supporters after the game.
“I was the last one on the field,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave and take the jersey off.”
Gardner met with San Francisco general manager John Lynch prior to being cut by the 49ers.
“I’m not too mad about it,” he said. “They signed me three days before. I didn’t get to play. I knew what was going to happen. That’s just how the business is. I fully understand that now.”
“It wasn’t a feel-good story,” Gardner added. “They truly feel I’m a good player and person.”
Gardner received close to 400 text messages after signing with the 49ers.
Head coach Scott Edwards and Central Valley’s varsity football team wished Gardner good luck on Twitter leading up to the 49ers-Chargers game.
“To see so many people supporting me, that fuels my fire,” Gardner said. “I don’t focus on the naysayers. I want to prove people that believe in me right. My goal is to be an inspiration for everybody.”
Gardner began the next chapter of his football career last week.
Gardner will continue to chase his dream of playing in the NFL.
“It’s time to get back to work,” said Gardner, who trains five days a week at Bonsu Elite Athletics in Ceres. “I’ll be ready for the next opportunity. I have to get back there. That feeling was unreal.”