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Gardner's NFL dream could become a reality
Central Valley grad Ja'Quan Gardner will pay close attention to the NFL Draft this week. A standout running back at Humboldt State for the past four seasons, Gardner could join the professional ranks through the draft or free agency. - photo by Photo courtesy of Humboldt State Athletics

Ja’Quan Gardner’s phone will be fully charged and by his side during the NFL Draft, which will be staged April 26-28 at Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The 2014 Central Valley High School grad enjoyed a record-breaking career at running back with Humboldt State.

Ja’Quan could join the professional ranks through the draft or free agency.

“I’m really excited to see what happens,” said Gardner, who stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 205 pounds. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s every kid’s dream to get their name called. But my goal is to end up in a camp somewhere. If that happens, it’s a step in the right direction. I just want to be in a position where I’ll get a shot to make a 53-man roster.”

Gardner attended an NFL Pro Day on April 4 at UC Davis, along with Lumberjack teammates Robert Webber (quarterback), William Mafi (wide receiver) and Richard Doctor (wide receiver).

Participants completed a number of workouts and drills.

Scouts from the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns were in attendance.

“I’m definitely happy with my performance,” he said. “I felt like I did enough. My film speaks for itself. I put up solid numbers.”

Gardner’s agent, Cameron Weiss from Los Angeles-based Empire Athletes, has been in contact with a number of NFL teams.

“My agent will handle the business side,” Gardner said. “He’s doing a great job making calls and building relationships. Hopefully, we’ll have some options. If I get the opportunity, it will be up to me to make it happen on the field.”

Ja’Quan will spend time with family and friends and train at Bonsu Elite Athletics in Ceres during the NFL Draft.

“This is something I’ve been working for, for the longest time,” Gardner said while talking about the possibility of competing at the pro level. “Hopefully, I can continue to play football. I’m anxious to get back on the field. I haven’t had a helmet on since November. I think I’ll get an opportunity. It’s the best of the best now. I’m ready for the challenge.”

Gardner wrapped up his gridiron career at the college level this past fall.

 He’ll be remembered as Humboldt State’s best skilled-position player.

Ja’Quan finished seventh in voting for the Harlon Hill award, the NCAA Division-II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, after rushing for 1,259 yards and scoring 19 touchdowns during his senior year.

A three-time D2 Conference Commissioners Association All-American, Gardner was voted Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year for the second time.

He was also named an All American by the Associated Press and American Football Coaches Association.

Ja'Quan led the Lumberjacks to an 8-2 overall record in 2017.

Gardner became the GNAC's all-time leader in career touchdowns scored (75), points scored (450), all-purpose yards (6,979), all-purpose yards per game (170.2), rushing attempts (878), rushing yards (5,426) and rushing touchdowns (70).

He set conference single-game marks with 446 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns, and tied another league record with five rushing TDs during Humboldt State's 52-49 Homecoming win over Azusa Pacific.

Gardner's performance earned him GNAC Offensive Player of the Week honors for a record-tying ninth time. 

He shattered 10 team records during his first three seasons at Humboldt State, including rushing yardage in a career, rushing yardage in a season, rushing yardage in a single game, touchdowns scored in a career, touchdowns scored in a season, touchdowns scored in a game, points scored in a career, points scored in a season, points scored in a game and longest rushing play.

Gardner was runner-up for the Harlon Hill award in 2015. He ranked first in the nation in rushing yards (2,266), rushing yards per game (188.8), and rushing touchdowns (25).

Ja’Quan was the recipient of the Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club’s College/Open Men’s Division and Male High School Outstanding Athlete Awards in 2017 and 2014, respectively.

Gardner, a three-year starter at Central Valley, broke the Stanislaus District's single-season rushing yards record during his final season with the Hawks.

He totaled 2,467 yards and 27 touchdowns in 11 games. Homer Garza set the previous mark (2,195) in 1997 with Hughson.

Ja'Quan was voted USA Today/Asics Ultimate Athlete of the Year.

He was selected to the Cal-Hi Sports medium schools' first-team offense.

He was named to the MaxPreps All-Northern California and All-Sac-Joaquin Section first teams.

He also won the Western Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player award.

Ja'Quan ranked first on the Stanislaus District's career rushing yards list (6,014) when he graduated from Central Valley. He eclipsed Central Catholic star Louis Bland's all-time record. Bland (2004-07) piled up 5,140 yards in 47 games.

Gardner tallied a program-best 67 TDs.

Ja'Quan helped Central Valley reach its team goal of qualifying for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the first time in 2013. The Hawks also posted their first-ever winning record (6-5).

“To be in the position I’m at today, I couldn’t ask for more,” Gardner said. “I’m thankful for the people that supported and believed in me.”