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CV football standout Ja'Quan Gardner gains national recognition
Central Valley High School star running back Ja'Quan Gardner is one of eight finalists for the USA Today/Asics Ultimate Athlete of the Year award. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) announced last Friday his support for Central Valley High School senior running back Ja'Quan Gardner.

One of eight finalists for the USA Today/Asics Ultimate Athlete of the Year award, Gardner finished in first place with 207,062 votes.

"Ja'Quan is an amazing talent with a very bright future ahead of him," Canella said. "His remarkable accomplishments are an inspiration to our community."

Gardner, a three-year starter, broke the Stanislaus District's career and single-season rushing yard records this year.

He totaled 2,467 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2013. Homer Garza set the previous mark (2,195) in 1997 with Hughson. Gardner ranks first on the district's career rushing yards list (6,014). He eclipsed Central Catholic star Louis Bland's all-time record. Bland (2004-07) piled up 5,140 yards in 47 games.

Ja'Quan tallied a program-best 63 TDs.

More importantly, Ja'Quan helped Central Valley reach its team goal of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time. The Hawks also secured their first-ever winning record (6-5).

"He's the latest in a long series of student-athletes who make California proud; we should do everything we can to support him," Cannella stated.

Thousands of names were submitted for recognition. A panel formed by USA Today High School Sports narrowed the list before voting was conducted.

"It's amazing," Central Valley Athletic Director Greg Magni said. "We're very excited to get that support. Ja'Quan's a great, young man."

Good Day Sacramento plans to visit Central Valley this week to do a live interview with Ja'Quan.

"They called me this morning," Gardner said. "I'm pretty nervous about it. It's live. There's no retakes. I'll feel more comfortable if more people are there."

"I gave them Ja'Quan's number," Magni said. "They thought the story was cool. It's going to be fun. We haven't declared victory yet. We'll keep voting. It's not over until it's over."

Voting for the USA Today/Asics Ultimate Athlete of the Year ended at 9 a.m. on Sunday.

Gardner received 42.4 percent of the final votes.

The other seven finalists had a combined 280,873 votes.

"I didn't think it was that big of a thing," Ja'Quan said. "I haven't voted for myself. The voting comes from everybody else. Everyone has been pushing for it pretty hard. The people in this community have always supported me. It feels good. I want to thank everyone who voted. It's a blessing. It's an honor."

For more information about the USA Today/Asics "Ultimate Athlete" competition, visit

Gardner wants to continue his playing career at a four-year school. Fresno State would be a perfect fit. The recent publicity might lead to more suitors.

"Hopefully, it helps with the whole college thing," Ja'Quan said. "I'm open to anything."