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Who Is Ja'Quan Gardner? San Diego Fleet Back Leads AAF in Rushing

B/R Live StaffContributor IMarch 7, 2019

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24:  Ja'Quan Gardner #32 of the San Diego Fleet rushes for a touchdown during an Alliance of American Football game against the San Antonio Commanders at SDCCU Stadium on February 24, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/AAF/Getty Images)
Denis Poroy/AAF/Getty Images

It's clear that one player has staked a claim to being the top running back in the inaugural season of the Alliance of American Football.

And while the AAF features former top college and NFL players—like Trent Richardson, Zac Stacy and Denard Robinson—the name of the leading ball carrier might be a surprise.

Ja'Quan Gardner, the running back for the San Diego Fleet, leads the AAF in rushing with 287 yards on 44 carries through the first four games, good enough for 6.5 yards per-carry.

While Richardson—a former Alabama star playing for the Birmingham Iron—leads the league in rushing touchdowns with seven, Gardner has rushed for nearly 130 more yards than him on 23 fewer carries.

     

Where is Gardner from?

Unlike Richardson, Gardner didn't star in the SEC during college. He didn't even play Division I football.

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Gardner spent his college days at Humboldt State University, a Division II school in Arcata, California.

In 42 games there, the 5'7" Ceres, California native ran for 5,495 yards and scored 72 touchdowns, shattering school and conference records.

His marks for career rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and total points are all Great Northwest Athletic Conference records. He also holds the single-game total yards record in the GNAC with 446, a mark he hit on Oct. 14, 2017.

He told NCAA.com that he looked up to Barry Sanders and Maurice Jones-Drew, fellow under-six-footers who were great at the running back position. He is one of 21 former Division II players in the AAF this season.

Gardner might go down as the last great football player to come out of Humboldt State. The school made the decision to end the program after the 2018 season.

Gardner was stellar in high school, too, rushing for 6,014 yards at Central Valley High School, finishing as the district's all-time rushing leader.

San Diego Fleet @AAFFleet

4th and 1? No problem. @_JGWentworth_32 scores the first TD in #SDFleet history! ⚓️🏈🙌 #AllHandsOnDeck https://t.co/BGePeqk2IE

Did he play in the NFL?

After going unselected in the 2018 NFL Draft, Gardner was invited to tryouts with the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams.

He signed with the 49ers during the preseason before their final exhibition contest against the Los Angeles Chargers. Gardner didn't stick with the 49ers, though, and was waived before the start of the regular season.

    

So far in the AAF …

Gardner landed with the San Diego Fleet and started the season off with a bang, scoring the first touchdown in the history of the team, scampering into the end zone on a toss to the left that went for nine yards.

His breakaway speed and elusiveness was on display in the Fleet's season-opener, Gardner had three runs of 10 yards or more and forced three missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus.

San Diego Fleet @AAFFleet

This needs to be seen from every angle. @_JGWentworth_32 🙌 #FleetFieldPass https://t.co/cbRHQzhkQi

In Week 3 against San Antonio, Gardner broke off a third-down carry for 83 yards and a touchdown.

In the first year of the AAF, Gardner has established league records for the longest scoring play (83 yards) and single-game rushing total (122 yards).

He's the first AAF player with back-to-back games of 100 yards or more of rushing. Gardner has also yet to fumble through his first four games. He's been solid in the passing game, too, hauling in seven catches for 58 yards.

A stout Memphis Express defense bottled Gardner up in Week 4, holding him to just 19 yards on 11 touches. Still, Gardner has shown he has game-breaking potential. He could become the AAF's first 1,000-yard rusher.

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