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Harlon Hill hopeful
CV grad Gardner a nominee for top award
Humboldt State sophomore tailback JaQuan Gardner has been nominated for the Harlon Hill Trophy award. Gardner played prep football at Central Valley High School. - photo by Photo courtesy of Louis Ramirez

Success hasn't changed Ja'Quan Gardner.

The 2014 Central Valley High School graduate/Humboldt State sophomore running back has been nominated for the Harlon Hill Trophy award, an honor given to the best NCAA Division-II college football player in the nation.

The announcement was made on Nov. 20.

Gardner is one of eight underclassmen on the list, which consists of 38 total players.

"I found out at practice," he said. "I didn't know what it is. It's a blessing. It's definitely a cool thing. I can't give enough credit to all of the people that have supported me."

Ja'Quan has already established himself as one of the Lumberjacks' all-time greatest running backs.

He climbed to No. 2 on Humboldt State's career rushing list this year.

"It's pretty cool," said Gardner, who's racked up 2,873 yards through two seasons. "People recognize you (on campus). But I try not to think of all the outside stuff. I'm just playing a game. It's football. There's no added pressure."

Ja'Quan was named to the American Football Coaches Association All-America Team last Thursday.

He was selected to the Division II Conference Commissioner's Association All-Region First Team on Dec. 3.

Ja'Quan was voted Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year on Nov. 18.

He was also a unanimous All-GNAC First-Team selection.

The Lumberjacks won the GNAC title outright with a perfect 6-0 mark thanks in large part to Gardner's dominance on the gridiron.

He was named the conference's Offensive Player of the Week five times.

Gardner currently ranks first in the nation in rushing yards (2,266), rushing touchdowns (25) and rushing yards per game (188.8), and second in all-purpose yards per game (197.9).

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.

"I haven't set any individual goals," Gardner said while talking about his future with the Lumberjacks. "Whatever happens, happens. I'm just trying to help my team win."

Gardner filled a key role as the Lumberjacks experienced a major turnaround in 2014.

Humboldt State compiled an 8-2 overall record and tied for second place in the GNAC standings (4-2) with Central Washington (7-4, 4-2) and Western Oregon (6-5, 4-2).

The Lumberjacks dropped all 11 of their 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).

He averaged a team-leading 6.9 yards per carry.

Gardner caught eight passes for 125 yards and one TD.

He totaled 193 yards on six kickoff returns.

Gardner, a three-year varsity starter in football at Central Valley, broke the Stanislaus District's career and single-season rushing yard records.

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).

Ja'Quan was recognized multiple times for his dominance in football during his final season with Central Valley.

He was voted USA Today/Asics Ultimate Athlete of the Year.

He was named to the Cal-Hi Sports medium schools' first-team offense.

He was selected to the MaxPreps 2013 All-Northern California and All-Sac-Joaquin Section first teams.

He won the Western Athletic Conference MVP award.

He became the first student from Central Valley to be named the Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club's Male High School Athlete of the Year.

Gardner racked up more than 1,500 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns during his freshman season with Central Valley's junior-varsity football squad.

Ja'Quan rushed for 1,341 yards and scored 20 touchdowns while starring on the Ceres Seahawks' varsity youth football team in 2009. He also tossed a pair of TD passes, returned two kickoffs for scores and ran back an interception for a touchdown.

Gardner seemed destined for gridiron greatness at an early age.

"The two years I've been here, we've had a great team," Ja'Quan said. "We consider each other brothers. We all work and play hard for each other."

Humboldt State wrapped up the 2015 season with a 54-7 loss to top-seeded Northwest Missouri State in the second round of the playoffs on Nov. 28 at Bearcat Stadium.

Ja'Quan was limited to a season-low 24 yards and no touchdowns on 14 carries.

The Lumberjacks compiled a 10-2 overall record and collected their first postseason win in 47 years this fall.

The winner of the 2015 Harlon Hill award will be announced on Dec. 18 via a webcast and honored at a luncheon on the University of Alabama campus on Jan. 8.

"It's really exciting," Gardner said while talking about being in the running for the prestigious honor. "It would be one of the top awards I've won. I'm living a dream right now. It's definitely a goal to play at the next level."