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XFL season approaches
CV grad Gardner ascends to top of Seattle Dragons' depth chart as running back
Central Valley High School grad Ja'Quan Gardner will make his debut at running back with the XFL's Seattle Dragons this Saturday in Washington, D.C.. - photo courtesy of Mason Kelley/Seattle Dragons

Ja’Quan Gardner will make his debut with the Seattle Dragons when the 2020 XFL campaign kicks off this weekend.

The 2014 Central Valley High School grad was listed as the Dragons’ starting running back on the team’s website yesterday.

“It’s exciting I have this opportunity,” Gardner said. “I’m really thankful for it. I can’t wait until the season starts.”

The Dragons will compete on the road against the DC Defenders on Saturday.

The contest will be televised on ABC at 11 a.m.

 “We’re following his journey,” Central Valley Athletic Director Greg Magni said. “Everybody is excited to tune in and watch. My son has a basketball game that day. I hope to see the first part of it (Gardner’s first game) before we leave. I expect him to go out there and do what he always does, which is to have a good showing.”

 The Seattle Dragons unveiled their 52-man roster for the 2020 season on Jan. 27.

Three running backs earned spots on the pro football team.

“It’s a small win,” Gardner 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 was awarded a spot on the team after impressing coaches at the XFL Training Camp and Dragons’ Minicamp.

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 DC Defenders on Jan. 20.

Gardner scored a rushing touchdown.

The Dragons held their minicamp in December at Memorial Stadium.

Gardner was selected by Seattle in the fifth and final phase of the XFL Draft on Oct. 16.

“I made it to where it would be difficult to cut me,” he said. “I did my job.”

“I’m excited for him,” Magni added. “Ja’Quan’s put in a lot of hard work to get to this moment.”

Gardner, who stands 5-foot-5 and weighs 201 pounds, made a name for himself while playing for the San Diego Fleet in the Alliance of American Football League, which got underway last February and ended prematurely due to funding issues.

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 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. I’m still having a good time playing the game. My mind and body are good.”

“At all of his destinations, he’s proven himself and beat the odds,” Magni said. “When he went to Humboldt State, people said he was too small, and he broke all sorts of records. That drives him. He definitely plays with a chip on his shoulder.”

Gardner brought national attention to Humboldt State’s football program.

He finished second in voting for the Harlon Hill award, the NCAA Division-II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, as a sophomore. 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.

A three-time D2 Conference Commissioners Association All-American, Gardner was voted Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year for the second time during his final season with the Lumberjacks.

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.

Ja’Quan 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 his senior year.

He totaled 2,467 yards and 27 touchdowns in 11 games. Homer Garza set the previous mark (2,195) in 1997 with Hughson.

Ja'Quan 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.

Ja'Quan ranked first on the Stanislaus District's career rushing yards list (6,014) when he graduated from high school. 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.

Ja'Quan also 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).

 “I don’t focus on the naysayers,” Gardner said. “I want to prove people that believe in me right. My goal is to be an inspiration for everybody.”