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Former CVHS star running back makes a name for himself in AAF
Gardner sets league record for longest scoring play
Central Valley High School grad Ja'Quan Gardner broke loose for an Alliance of American Football-record 83-yard touchdown run during the San Diego Fleet's 31-11 victory over the visiting San Antonio Commanders Sunday night. - Photo courtesy of The Alliance

Central Valley High School grad Ja’Quan Gardner did it again.

For the third week in a row, he led the San Diego Fleet’s rushing attack.

Sunday night, Gardner gained 122 yards and scored one touchdown on 12 carries in a 31-11 revenge win over the San Antonio Commanders at Qualcomm Stadium.

He also made Alliance of American Football history when he raced 83 yards for a touchdown.

When asked by NBC San Diego producer/writer Fernando Ramirez, “Do you know what the longest play in the AAF is so far?,” Ja’Quan replied: “No.”

After finding out he set the record, a humble Gardner smiled and said: “That’s not too shabby.”

Gardner’s 83-yard TD scamper on a draw play gave the Fleet a 28-8 lead with 8:09 to play in the third quarter.

It also created a buzz on social media.

Les Bonsu, Jason McCloskey and Joe Borba were among the hundreds of thousands of viewers that witnessed Gardner’s historical run.

“Anybody that doubted his long speed definitely got that answer tonight,” said Bonsu, Gardner’s personal trainer since his sophomore year at Central Valley. “He got to show it on the biggest stage, too. If that was clocked, it was 4.3-speed. He was moving. He can go from 0 to 100 real quick. He has quickness and top-end speed. It’s rare to have.”

“I jumped off the couch,” said McCloskey, Gardner’s head coach during his senior and junior years with the Hawks. “As soon as he got past the linebacker and dipped the safety I knew he was going to take it to the house. We’ve all seen that show before.”

“To be honest, I’ve seen him run faster when he was working on the 100-yard dash to go to Masters in track and field,” he added. “I was trying to remember how many 80-plus yard runs and returns he had in high school. I counted in my head at least seven.”

“He’s been doing that for a long time,” said Borba, Gardner’s head coach with the Ceres Seahawks varsity youth football team. “It reminded me of what he did so many times at Central Valley and Humboldt State. It was awesome. The cool thing is after the run he was congratulating his (offensive) teammates on the sideline. He’s done that at every level.”

Gardner has a league-leading 281 rushing yards through the AAF’s first three games.

He’s averaging 8 yards per carry, the highest mark for a starting running back.

He’s also the only skilled-position player in the AAF to post back-to-back 100-plus yard games.

He ranks second in rushing touchdowns (3).

“He’s a special talent,” McCloskey said. “If you give him an opportunity, he’ll make the most of it. He’ll prove any of the naysayers wrong. He’s always done that. I’m not the only Ja’Quan believer. He has a lot of believers. The people who know him know what he’s capable of. He’s built himself into an NFL running back. I thought he was talented enough to get drafted. The NFL let him slip through the cracks.”

“He’s playing out of his mind right now,” Borba added. “He deserves another chance (in the NFL).”

Gardner has developed into a fan-favorite during the inaugural season of the AAF.

Topps released an exclusive sports trading card of Gardner following his Week 2 performance.

He will also have his own card in the company's AAF hobby and blaster boxes, which will be released in the near future.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if San Diego started selling his merchandise at its next home game,” Bonsu said. “He has supporters from everywhere. He deserves it. He’s worked extremely hard. Through adversity, great things come.”

“He’s got the support of Ceres and the 209,” Borba added. “That’s for sure.”