The Seattle Dragons unveiled their 52-man roster for the 2020 XFL season on Jan. 27.
Three running backs earned spots on the pro football team, including 2014 Central Valley High School grad Ja’Quan Gardner.
“It’s a small win,” he said. “Now, the real work begins. I’m going to try to get better every practice. I want to show the coaches I can be useful on the team.”
Gardner, who stands 5-foot-5 and weighs 201 pounds, was awarded a spot on the team after impressing coaches at the XFL Training Camp and Dragons’ Minicamp.
“They made cuts in the morning,” he said. “If you didn’t receive a call, you knew you were getting back on the flight to Seattle. I made it to where it would be difficult to cut me. I did my job.”
The XFL Training Camp was staged, Jan. 4-22, at Rice Stadium in Houston.
All eight of the league’s eight teams participated, including the Dragons, Los Angeles Wildcats, Houston Roughnecks, Dallas Renegades, D.C. Defenders, New York Guardians, St. Louis BattleHawks and Tampa Bay Vipers.
Seattle scrimmaged against the D.C. Defenders on Jan. 20.
Gardner scored a rushing touchdown.
“You can’t take individual credit in this game,” he said. “Everybody has to be on the same page. You need X, Y and Z to happen.”
The Dragons held their minicamp in December at Memorial Stadium.
“I was anxious to get back on the field,” said Gardner, whose season with the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football League was cut short this past spring following a shoulder injury. “The recovery felt like it was long. I wanted to play.”
Jim Zorn and Mike Riley will serve as head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, for the Dragons.
“We got a great coaching staff,” Gardner said. “They (Zorn and Riley) are two offensive guys. They really know the game.”
Seattle’s running back stable consists of Gardner, Trey Williams and Kenneth Farrow.
“I’ve learned a lot from them,” Gardner said. “They have a lot of experience. They’ve been at the highest level. That’s where I want to be.”
Gardner will wear jersey No. 31.
“I didn’t get No. 32,” he said. “It’s not a big deal. As long as you got a number, you should be happy.”
Gardner was selected by the Dragons in the fifth and final phase of the XFL Draft on Oct. 16.
He made a name for himself while playing for the Fleet in the AAF, which got underway in February and ended prematurely due to funding issues.
Gardner 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 prior to having his season cut short by a shoulder injury.
Gardner was put on the injured-reserve list following San Diego’s 32-15 loss to the Arizona Hotshots on March 24.
He had surgery in April to repair a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Gardner rehabbed twice a week for five months at Select Physical Therapy in Stockton.
“There are a lot of ups and downs in this game,” he said. “You take the good with the bad. You just have to learn from it. I’ve stayed positive. I have a great family and support system.”
The 2020 XFL campaign will kick off on Feb. 8.
The Dragons will compete on the road against the D.C. Defenders.
“I heard we lead the league in ticket sales,” he said. “The city loves its sports.”
“I’m excited,” Gardner added. “We have a good team. It’s definitely going to be a fun year. When I get an opportunity to show what I can do, I’ll make the most of it.”