A model student-athlete, Ja'Quan Gardner is in the running for a national award.
The Central Valley High School senior running back advanced to the finals of the USA Today/Asics Ultimate Athlete of the Year competition on Monday. "Yesterday, he won his grouping and qualified for the finals," Central Valley Athletic Director Greg Magni said. "He is now in the final 8 for the entire United States."
Thousands of names were submitted for recognition. A panel formed by USA Today High School Sports narrowed the list before voting was conducted.
"The award is a direct reflection of who he is," Magni said. "He's an excellent athlete and really exemplifies character and integrity. I can't remember a player being as good and humble as him. He doesn't care about the attention. He just wants to perform and have fun doing it."
Ja'Quan, a three-year starter, broke the Stanislaus District's career and single-season rushing yard records this year.
He totaled 2,467 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2013. Homer Garza set the previous mark (2,195) in 1997 with Hughson. Gardner ranks first on the district's career rushing yards list (6,014). He eclipsed Central Catholic star Louis Bland's all-time record. Bland (2004-07) piled up 5,140 yards in 47 games.
Ja'Quan tallied a program-best 63 TDs.
More importantly, Ja'Quan helped Central Valley reach its team goal of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time. The Hawks also secured their first-ever winning record (6-5).
"I am the ultimate athlete because not only do I love football and work hard every day, I also motivate my teammates to become better players and better people," stated Gardner, who earned a 3.5 GPA this semester and posted a 1370 on his SAT exam. "It is a tradition of mine to immediately run over and hand the official the ball after I score a touchdown because I believe in humility and good sportsmanship. I will miss playing high school football, but I hope that I get the chance to play at the next level."
The winner will be featured in an article in USA Today.
The Ultimate Athlete's prep sports team will receive Asics warm-ups or training gear valued at $6,000 and their high school's athletic department will receive a $1,000 donation.
The final round of voting began at 9 a.m. on Tuesday and will end on Dec. 22 at the same time. To vote for Gardner, visit http://contest.usatodayhss.com/vote/asics-2013/final/3102.
"The benefit for Ja'Quan winning would be the national recognition" Magni said. "He definitely deserves it. We're just trying to get him exposure. Somebody is going to be very fortunate to get a kid like that."