Ja’Quan Gardner’s hairstyle, uniform and place of residence have changed.
He continues to put up big numbers on the gridiron.
Gardner, a 2014 Central Valley High School grad, was named Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Monday.
“I didn’t find out about it until yesterday night,” Ja’Quan said via telephone following Tuesday’s practice with the Humboldt State football team. “I didn’t expect it at all. I just try to have fun. That’s how I approach the game of football at every level.”
Just a freshman, Ja’Quan rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries while leading Humboldt State to a 30-10 win against No. 14 Azusa Pacific on Saturday at Redwood Bowl.
He averaged a team-high 8.5 yards per rush.
Gardner accounted for the Lumberjacks’ first two TDs. He scored on runs of 54 and 6 yards.
“Obviously, he is a name people around the conference will get to know very quickly,” Humboldt State head coach Rob Smith said. “He is a very talented young man and has had to very big games to start the season.”
Mother Stacey, brother Jamarea and grandpa Luvell watched Ja’Quan compete against Azusa Pacific.
“My family drives me,” he said. “I want to make them proud.”
Gardner made his debut with the Lumberjacks on Sept. 16.
Ja’Quan ran for a team-leading 156 yards and one TD on 17 carries as Humboldt State opened the 2014 season with a 27-14 victory over host Texas A&M Kingsville.
Gardner averaged 9.2 yards per touch.
Ja’Quan returned the opening kickoff 19 yards.
His first-ever carry at running back, a 9-yard gain, came in the second quarter.
“I’m not going to lie,” Gardner said. “I had a lot of nerves before the game. After the first play, they went away. At the end of the day, it’s just a game. You just try to go out there and contribute.”
The win snapped a 13-game losing streak dating back to 2012.
Gardner’s totaled a team-high 297 rushing yards, to go along with three touchdowns through the Lumberjacks’ first two games. He’s returned three kickoffs for 108 yards.
He ranks 10th in NCAA Division II in rushing yards and rushing yards per game.
“I’m not too worried about stats,” Gardner said. “Our main goal is to win games. Our offensive line has been doing a great job. I have great teammates here. Everybody is supportive of each other. We’ve been clicking on all cylinders.”
Senior Nick Ricciardulli has served as a role model for fellow running backs Gardner, Richard Doctor, Mark Parsons and Josh Tupper.
“He knows the system,” Gardner said. “He helps us out. It’s a friendly competition.”
Winless a year ago, Humboldt State has enjoyed a 2-0 start to the 2014 season.
The Lumberjacks went 0-11 in 2013.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet I’m here in college,” Gardner said. “I’ve been so busy. Classes. Meetings. Practices. Workouts. It’s a cycle. My schedule is pretty hectic. I’m thankful for the opportunity to play the game I love. It’s a blessing. Winning is the most important thing.”
Gardner, a three-year varsity starter in football at Central Valley, broke the Stanislaus District's career and single-season rushing yard records last fall.
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 this past season. Central Valley also secured its first-ever winning record (6-5).