Ja’Quan Gardner has accomplished a lot during his football career.
The 2014 Central Valley High School grad doesn’t like to reflect on the past because he’s focused on the present.
He experienced a “wow” moment following Wednesday’s practice with the San Diego Fleet.
Gardner found out he had his own trading card with Topps, which has teamed up with the Alliance of American Football (AAF) league.
“Usually, I don’t look back on accomplishments,” said Gardner, a 5-foot-7 206-pound running back. “This definitely ranks up there for me on a personal level realizing how far I’ve come. It puts everything into perspective. My family is really excited.”
Gardner collected football cards in the fifth through eighth grades.
He made countless trips to Target to purchase packs.
“I had a whole binder full of cards,” he said. “I specifically remember the L.T (LaDainian Tomlinson) one. It had a hologram. It was my favorite card. I always wanted to get the coolest cards.”
Gardner’s rookie card will be a must-have for fans of his from California, Texas and other states.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Les Bonsu, who started training Gardner during his sophomore year of high school. “You grow up collecting cards and one day you have your own. People that follow him will want a piece of that memorabilia if they can get a hold of one.”
“It’s going to be an extremely sought after card in this area,” said former Ceres High football head coach Brett Johnson, who coached against Gardner during his three varsity seasons at Central Valley. “That would be one of my super special ones. Now, I’m going to have to go on a mission to find one.”
Stacey Gardner would probably like to own every football card printed of her son.
“Topps gave me 50 of the cards to keep for myself,” he said. “My mom wants all of them.”
Gardner made his debut with the Fleet during the first week of the inaugural season of AAF, which kicked off on Feb. 9.
He rushed for 55 yards on eight carries and caught two passes for 17 yards while starting at running back in San Diego’s 15-6 loss to the San Antonio Commanders.
“This league is attracting a lot of attention,” Gardner said.
Gardner’s football journey started as a youngster with the Modesto Broncos and Ceres Seahawks youth football organizations.
“I still remember the Seahawk days in Ceres,” he said. “I had a lot of fun.”
Gardner didn’t receive a single Division-I scholarship offer coming out of high school despite breaking the Stanislaus District’s career and single-season rushing yard records.
He rewrote Humboldt State’s and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s record books while in college.
In August, Gardner signed a contract as a rookie free agent with the San Francisco. A longshot to make the team’s 53-man regular-season roster due to his late signing, Gardner was released following the organization’s final preseason game versus the Los Angeles Chargers.
“I don’t think I’d change my journey,” he said. “I’m on a path I want to be on.”
“The thing that’s most impressive about him is he never changed as a person,” Johnson stated. “He’s humble and always polite. He’s still connected to the community. He didn’t forget where he came from. I wish him nothing but success as he lives out a lot of people’s dreams.”
“I’m super excited for everything that’s happened to him,” Bonsu added. “He deserves all of it and more. He’s a great person.”