Any notion Central Valley’s Ja’Quan Gardner was not an elite high school running back were dispelled last fall when he rushed for 330 yards against state bowl champion Central Catholic and 378 yards against NorCal finalist Manteca.
The Bee’s 2013 Player of the Year finished with a Stanislaus District record 6,014 career rushing yards, and now the diminutive (5-foot-7, 175 pounds) scatback has embarked on another record pace, rushing for 298 yards and three scores in his first two college games with Division II Humboldt State.
“I really wasn’t expecting to play this much so soon, but then I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Gardner, who on Monday was named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week. “As a freshman, you want to come in and do whatever the coach asks, and that’s what I’ve been doing so far.”
And if the coach asks Gardner to return kickoffs, no problem. In the Lumberjacks’ season-opening 27-14 win at Texas A&M-Kingsville, Gardner returned three kickoffs for 108 yards to go with his 156 yards on 17 rushing attempts.
He followed that up in Saturday’s home opener by running for 141 yards and two scores on 16 carries as the Lumberjacks tripped Azusa Pacific 30-10. It’s a heady start for a Humboldt State program that entered the season on a 13-game losing streak, including an 0-11 campaign in 2013.
“When I came here, the depth chart was wide-open because we have a lot of young guys and a transfer at running back with one returning senior,” Gardner said. “We’ve all been able to grasp the system, but it wasn’t too tough to learn.
“The biggest change for me is that this level is much faster, and all the guys are a lot bigger and stronger, but that only gives me more reason to want to run away from them.”
Gardner has been joined on the roster by two other players from the district – both Modesto Christian graduates. Raymond Nelson, who landed at Humboldt after a short stay at UCLA, is listed as a sophomore and is starting at tight end. Also, Keaton Engel, a member of the Crusaders state bowl championship team in 2009, is a sophomore wide receiver after redshirting at Fort Hays State, then sitting out the 2013 season following his transfer to Humboldt.
The Lumberjacks are scheduled to climb on a bus this morning and not disembark until sometime Friday morning. It’s a 957-mile trip from the Humboldt campus to Dixie State in St. George, Utah, where the Lumberjacks will play Saturday. Humboldt flew to its opener in Texas, but not this time. Such is life in Division II.
“I’m not too excited about it, but it’s a good time for team bonding,” said Gardner, who added that he has the ability to sleep on buses. “You know, 17 hours on a bus is kinda ridiculous.”
But then, so is starting a college career the way Gardner has.
Sudfeld has big game in Indiana loss
Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld, a junior from Modesto Christian, had his fourth career 300-yard passing game for the Hoosiers in their heartbreaking 45-42 loss at Bowling Green.
Sudfeld completed 31 of 41 passes for 347 yards and a touchdown, and added two more touchdowns rushing. His 31 completions matched a career high. He’s moved into Indiana’s career top-10 lists with 287 completions and 3,613 passing yards.
The Hoosiers play at Missouri on Saturday, a 1 p.m. kickoff that will be televised on the SEC Network.
Mundt sees playing time at Oregon
Oregon tight end Johnny Mundt, a sophomore from Central Catholic, has seen action in all three games on offense and special teams as the Ducks have bolted to a 3-0 start and a No. 2 national ranking. Mundt had two receptions for 29 yards in Oregon’s season-opening 62-13 win over South Dakota but did not have a catch in wins over Michigan State (46-27) and Wyoming (48-14)
The Ducks go on the road for the first time this season Saturday to open Pacific-12 Conference play against Washington State. It’s a 7:30 p.m. kickoff that will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.
The Ducks’ lone 2014 visit to Northern California is Oct. 24 when they play Cal at Levi’s Stadium.
Makau emerges on UC Riverside cross-country team
Following a redshirt season in 2013, Enochs High graduate Faith Makau has started her cross county career in a big way, finishing as UC Riverside’s No. 2 runner in its first two races. She made her debut Aug., 29, finishing 12th individually at the Nevada Twilight Classic, clocking 15 minutes, 27 seconds in the 4-kilometer run.
On Saturday, she was seventh at the UC Riverside Invitational, covering the 6-kilometer course in 21:23.2.
Makau went to Riverside with great credentials, having won the Sac-Joaquin Section cross country title in 2011 and winning section gold medals in the 1,600 and 800 meters as a senior. She was sixth at the state meet in the 800 in 2013.
Hobby breezes for UNLV on a familiar course
Rebecca Hobby, a junior from Hughson High and Modesto Junior College, began her Las Vegas career Sept. 5 with a ninth-placefinish at the Fresno State Invitational, covering the 4.2-kilometer Woodward Park course in 15:04.20.
Woodward Park has been the site of the state high school cross country championships each year since 2007 and is a trail Hobby has covered many times. Hobby was the second-fastest Rebel in Fresno as UNLV grabbed third place behind Fresno State and Air Force.