The San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams are one of the NFL’s most storied rivalries.
Now, the league’s version of the Hatfields and the McCoys have something else to fight over: Ja’Quan Gardner.
The Central Valley High School product, who went on to star at Humboldt State, went undrafted in last week’s NFL Draft. He has, however, been invited to two rookie minicaps – the 49ers’ and the Rams’. San Francisco will hold its minicamp May 4-6, while L.A. will work out May 11-13.
The knock on Gardner is his size. At 5-foot-7, 205 pounds, he’s considered an undersized NFL prospect. According to his agent, Cameron Weiss, teams want to get a look at Gardner up close and personal before making a final decision on whether to offer him a contract.
“Unfortunately, you get that with guys who come from small schools or lower-level competition,” said Weiss. “It’s something he has to disprove and we’re confident he’ll do that.”
Nobody is more confident than Gardner, the Stanislaus District’s all-time leading rusher (6,014) and the 2013 Player of the Year.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity,” said Gardner, a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy – the Division II equivalent of the Heisman – after his sophomore season. “I just want to go out there and see what I can do. I just have to stick to what I know, stick to what I do and stick to what got me here.”
What got Gardner here is his speed (4.51 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and his elusiveness. In the NFL, he’ll likely be used on special teams and as a change-of-pace back.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of people who say special teams are really key to helping a team and coming in as a rookie,” said Gardner. “I’m willing to play special teams and if I get the opportunity to check into a game as a tailback, I’m going to make the most of that opportunity, too.”
Naturally, in Stanislaus County, there are more 49ers fans than Rams fans. So, if Gardner should latch on with San Francisco, he’d likely be inundated with ticket requests.
“If I should get signed by the 49ers, I’m willing to deal with that,” Gardner quipped.
Mainly, though, he just wants to make an impression on a team.
“And, also, I can show my skills as far as quickness and being able to catch the ball out of the backfield,” said Gardner. “I’m really looking to show that.”
But his greatest attribute?
“That I’m willing to work,” said Gardner. “My effort.”