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Hawk standout Gardner sets Stanislaus District career rushing record
JaQuan rushed for 5,315 yards in three varsity seasons
Senior JaQuan Gardner poses for a picture with Central Valley blockers following his record-breaking performance last week. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Promoted to Central Valley High School's varsity football team as a sophomore in 2011, it didn't take Ja'Quan Gardner long to make a name for himself.

Gardner rumbled for a program-record 1,985 yards and 25 touchdowns en route to earning the Western Athletic Conference Offensive Most Valuable Player award.

Gardner totaled 1,562 yards and 15 TDs his junior year.He was selected to the WAC Second Team.

On Friday, Ja'Quan broke the Stanislaus District's career rushing record while leading the Hawks to a 35-7 win over visiting Los Banos.

Gardner (5,315 yards in 29 games) totaled 205 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries last week.

Ja'Quan eclipsed former Central Catholic star Louis Bland's all-time mark. Bland (2004-07) piled up 5,140 yards in 47 games.

"It's a pretty cool accomplishment," Gardner said. "It's not just me. I give credit to all the offensive linemen I've had the last three years. This is for everybody; the whole town of Ceres. I'm just thankful for all the support."

"People expect great games from him," Hawks head coach Jason McCloskey said. "He's been doing it for three years. Every team has a hard time stopping him. He's a very intelligent football player. He's so physical. His breakaway speed is amazing. He's running with a purpose this year. He wants to get to the playoffs. That's his biggest goal."

A CalHiSports preseason All-Sac-Joaquin Section Second Team selection, Gardner has rushed for 1,768 yards and 19 TDs this year.

He had 330 yards and three scores in Central Valley's 43-34 loss to 2012 Division IV state champion Central Catholic (8-1, 5-0) on Oct. 25. Ja'Quan scored on runs of 80, 60 and 10 yards.

Gardner finished with 220 yards and three touchdowns during the Hawks' 28-25 setback at Patterson (9-0, 5-0) on Oct. 4.

He scampered for 256 yards and four TDs while leading Central Valley to a 41-8 victory against host Livingston (1-8, 0-5) on Oct. 18.

"He's amazing," Central Valley Athletic Director Greg Magni said following Gardner's electrifying performance against CC. "That's the best game I've seen him play."

Gardner, who stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 170 pounds, has never missed a game.

Ja'Quan bench-presses 295 pounds and squats 405 pounds.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds twice at the Fresno State Individual Camp.

Gardner has been slowed by knee, calf and ankle injuries this year.

"He's still not 100 percent," McCloskey said.

Reading about the accomplishments of other local running backs has provided motivation.

Hobbled by a knee injury, Gardner was limited to 75 yards and no touchdowns in a 29-7 homecoming loss to Pacheco on Sept. 27. Panther Frank Ginda rushed for 290 yards and two touchdowns against a shorthanded Central Valley team.

Ripon Christian's Andrew Brown currently leads the Sac-Joaquin Section and Stanislaus District in rushing yards (2,034). He also surpassed Bland's career mark last week. Brown's racked up 5,162 yards and 112 touchdowns.

"Some people forgot about Ja'Quan," McCloskey said.

Gardner racked up more than 1,500 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns during his freshman season with Central Valley's junior-varsity football squad.

Ja'Quan seemed destined for gridiron greatness at an early age.

Ja'Quan rushed for 1,341 yards and scored 20 touchdowns while starring on the Ceres Seahawks' varsity youth football team in 2009. He also tossed a pair of TD passes, returned two kickoffs for scores and ran back an interception for a touchdown.

Gardner considered attending Central Catholic prior to enrolling at Central Valley. He even toured the campus.

"He's had opportunities to go to other schools,"
McCloskey said. "He chose to come here. He's a special talent. He does change the dynamic of the team. He can score from any spot on the field. He's a great team captain. We're very fortunate to have him."

Success hasn't changed Ja'Quan.

Earlier this year, Gardner changed the color and style of his hair.

He didn't alter his appearance to draw attention to himself.

Ja'Quan, who sports a blonde Mohawk, participated in a bonding ritual with teammates.

A yardage and touchdown machine on the field at every level, Gardner has always been quick to praise his teammates.

He's humble, polite and soft-spoken.

"He doesn't talk a lot," said Joe Borba, Gardner's coach at the youth level. "He just goes out there and does his job. It's nice to be able to watch that kid play football."

Gardner will compete at the college level.

He would love to play for Fresno State.

But his immediate focus has been on preparing for Central Valley's final regular season game.

The Hawks (5-4) will be playoff eligible for the first time if they beat the Bulldogs of Ceres High (2-7) on Friday. Central Valley just missed qualifying for the postseason in 2011.

"It's been eating me up inside," Gardner said. "We want it really bad. That's what we're working for. I don't think about the pressure. I just like to go out there and have fun."

Ja'Quan will be remembered as one of the Stanislaus District's all-time greatest players. He's been the face of Central Valley's football program for the past three seasons.

"It's a cool feeling," Gardner said. "It's an honor. It's something you can take pride in. I thank God for giving me the talent. I want the younger players to be better than me. I know there will be better. I don't know what else to say."

"Everyone loves Ja'Quan," McCloskey said. "You wish all your players were as humble and worked just as hard as him. He deserves everything he gets."