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Gardner an OAA finalist
JaQuan Gardner - photo by Contributed to the Courier

One of three finalists in the men's open division at the Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club's 49th Outstanding Athlete Awards banquet, 2014 Central Valley High School graduate/Humboldt State star football player Ja'Quan Gardner didn't express displeasure after learning former Turlock High Bulldog Kevin Kramer received the distinction on April 6 in Modesto.

"I wasn't thinking about winning," Ja'Quan said. "It was an honor to even be considered for the award."

Kramer (class of 2011) beat out Gardner and Indiana quarterback/2012 Modesto Christian grad Nate Sudfeld.

Kramer was selected 62nd overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft.

He started 61 games at shortstop for UCLA this past season.

He earned All-Pac-12 First-Team honors.

Kramer batted .323 with seven homers, 14 doubles, 55 runs, 34 RBIs and 36 walks.

Sudfeld could be selected in the upcoming NFL Draft.

He passed for 3,573 yards and 27 touchdowns with seven interceptions during his senior year with Indiana.

"They're both great athletes," said Ja'Quan, who became the first student-athlete from Central Valley High School to be named the SOS Club's Male High School Athlete of the Year in 2014.

Gardner completed his second season with Humboldt State in November.

He's already established himself as one of the Lumberjacks' all-time greatest running backs.

He climbed to No. 2 on Humboldt State's career rushing list this past fall.

Gardner's racked up 2,873 yards and 33 touchdowns through two seasons.

Ja'Quan led the nation in rushing yards (2,266), rushing yards per game (188.8) and rushing touchdowns (25).

He broke the Lumberjacks' single-season and single-game rushing yard records.

He shattered the GNAC's single-season rushing yard and carries marks as well.

He matched a program record with five TD runs as Humboldt State routed South Dakota Mines 59-10 on Oct. 3.

He totaled a team-record 305 yards in the Lumberjacks' 34-16 Homecoming win against two-time defending GNAC champion Azusa Pacific on Oct. 10.

Gardner ran for 246 yards and two touchdowns during fourth-seeded Humboldt State's 45-31 victory over No. 5 Augustana in the Super Region Three playoff bracket on Nov. 21.

One of eight finalists for the Harlon Hill award, Division-II football's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, Gardner finished second overall.

He also received numerous All-America honors as well.

Ja'Quan won the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

Humboldt State football has experienced a rebirth thanks in large part to Gardner's outstanding play.

The Lumberjacks compiled a 10-2 overall record and collected their first postseason win in 47 years in 2015.

Humboldt State won the GNAC title outright with a perfect 6-0 mark.

"I'm still having fun with the game," Ja'Quan said.

Humboldt State wrapped up its spring season with a Green and Gold Scrimmage on April 2.

Gardner was named one of the Lumberjacks' team captains for the 2016 season.

"Ja'Quan is special and needs the football in his hands," Humboldt State Offensive Coordinator Eric Tripp said. "Our goal is to take advantage of his many talents as a football player and put him in positions to improve the offense."

"I'm looking forward to taking on more of a leadership role," Gardner said. "We got to get better."