Ja’Quan Gardner and Kendel Johnson helped propel Central Valley High School’s varsity football program to new heights last fall.
The Hawks qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the first time.
Central Valley also secured its first-ever winning record (6-5).
Gardner and Johnson will represent the Hawks while participating in the 41st Lions All-Star Game this Saturday at Tracy High School.
“I’m going to be there for sure,” said Jason McCloskey, Gardner’s and Johnson’s head coach for the past two seasons. “It’s going to be fun to watch. I’ll be wearing Central Valley gear. I’m going to support those guys. If they’re playing to win, they’re going to give Ja’Quan the ball as much as possible.”
Ja’Quan and Kendel will suit up for the South squad. They’ll team up with players from Atwater, Buhach Colony, Central Catholic, Downey, Enochs, Golden Valley, Hilmar, Los Banos, Merced, Modesto High, Modesto Christian, Patterson, Pitman and Turlock.
“They’re what I want my kids to be like,” said McCloskey, who’s been tapped to be the founding head coach of Mountain House High School’s football program. “They work hard. They’re so humble. They’re not selfish. They’re two of the best athletes I’ve coached. They’re great kids. I just wish I had more years with those guys.”
Gardner was recognized multiple times for his dominance on the gridiron during his final season with the Hawks.
The star running back was voted USA Today/Asics Ultimate Athlete of the Year.
Ja'Quan was selected to the Cal-Hi Sports medium schools' first-team offense.
He was selected to the MaxPreps 2013 All-Northern California and All-Sac-Joaquin Section first teams.
He was named the Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club's Male High School Athlete of the Year.
He won the Western Athletic Conference MVP award.
He was also a recipient of the Central Valley Golden Hawk Award.
Gardner, a three-year starter at the varsity level, broke the Stanislaus District's career and single-season rushing yard records.
He rushed for 2,467 yards and 27 touchdowns his senior year.
Ja'Quan totaled 6,014 yards and 67 TDs in 31 career games.
“His vision on the field is Barry Sanders-ish,” McCloskey said. “It’s ridiculous. He can shake you. He’s very powerful for his size. He gets the ball and special things happen.”
Kendel, a dual-threat QB, rushed for 1,091 yards and 11 touchdowns this past season. He passed for 783 yards with 10 TDs and eight interceptions. Johnson also had a 23-yard TD catch.
“Kendel’s the most athletic kid I’ve ever coached,” McCloskey said. “We nicknamed him Flash. He’s so explosive.”
Gardner ran for 378 yards and four touchdowns on 35 carries during 15th-seeded Central Valley's 69-55 loss to No. 2 Manteca in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs. He also tossed a 4-yard TD pass to Christian Romo.
Johnson totaled 221 yards and three scores on the ground.
The Buffaloes (13-2) captured section and Valley Oak League titles.
Gardner rushed for 330 yards and three TDs in a 43-34 loss to Central Catholic in Western Athletic Conference play.
Johnson had 159 yards, two touchdowns and one pick.
The Raiders (15-1) won State, NorCal and Section championships.
“It was a pleasure to coach those guys,” McCloskey said. “I’m just really proud of them. They exceeded my expectations.”
Gardner earned a full-ride scholarship to Division-II Humboldt State.
Johnson has yet to decide where he’ll go to college. He’s drawn interest from NAIA Southern Oregon University.
“Given the opportunity, they’re going to do well,” McCloskey said. “I wish I had a full team of them.”