Owen’s Gardner snags preseason honors

Owen’s Gardner snags preseason honors


Owen’s Gardner snags preseason honors


Jager Gardner prefers to greet would-be tacklers with a helmet or shoulder check rather than elude them.

And head-on is exactly how the rising senior from Owen is taking stock of everything that went down last week.

First, Gardner was tabbed as the preseason NCHSAA 2-A state football player of the year by NCPreps.com.

But he was preoccupied at the time.

Gardner was at a camp in Tallahassee, Florida, where the 6-foot-2, 202-pound All-WNC running back said he came away with an oral scholarship offer from the coaching staff of defending national champion Florida State. Virginia and Akron have previously offered Gardner.

“This all makes me feel like everything I’ve been working towards has been worth it, and my dreams are coming true,” Gardner said. “It’s a blessing.”

NCAA programs may issue as many non-binding oral scholarship offers as they choose until Aug. 1 of a prospect’s senior year. That’s when an offer must be put into writing.

Gardner said Florida State has already invited him back to campus in November and any offer is contingent upon keeping his grades at a satisfactory level.

Owen coach Kenny Ford said Gardner is academically eligible for this upcoming season but is still attending summer school to stay on top of things.

Gardner was the 2013 Western Highlands Conference player of the year after rushing for a single-season school record 2,583 yards and 31 touchdowns. He averaged 9.7 yards per carry as a junior and established another school record with 459 yards in a 36-27 win at Avery County on Sept. 27.

Not only that, Gardner’s production in the backfield helped Owen win its most games (nine) since 2006. Austin Bennett, Mason Eades and Zee Johnston are other former All-WHC players back from last fall.

Gardner explained how the offer from the Seminoles came to pass.

“I was doing some drills, and I knew how to run routes. But no one was running them the way they wanted them to,” Gardner said.

“Somehow, I did exactly what that coach wanted. He said I was extremely coachable and that ‘I want you to come to my school.’ We’re going to stay in touch and see how it goes.”

Official football practice for NCHSAA schools begins Aug. 1. And in the meantime, Gardner said he hopes to squeeze in one last camp at Georgia.

“The state preseason player of the year (award) and everything else is really humbling, but it’s not about me,” Gardner said. “It’s about my linemen and all the teammates who have worked hard and put me in a position to be successful.”

Gardner said most colleges are recruiting him as a running back even though he plays on both sides of the ball for Owen.

The Warhorses’ season opener is Aug. 22 at home against Enka.


The following Western North Carolina all-conference football players from 2013 are expected back for this upcoming season.

MURPHY (7): Malachi Beaver, Bradley Puccio, Deion Johnson, Brody Loudermilk, Tyler Wiley, Bailey Beaver and Foster Stroup.

OWEN (4): Austin Bennett, Mason Eades, Jager Gardner* and Zee Johnston.

SWAIN COUNTY (4): Jordan Cody, Taylor Oros, Kobe Toineeta and Spencer McCoy.

ASHEVILLE (3): Peter Leota, Jose Daniels and Cameron Ray.

POLK COUNTY (3): Jordan Smith, D.J. Twitty and Jamal Tanner.

AVERY COUNTY (2): Tre Jackson* and Austin Phillips.

FRANKLIN (2): Jeremiah Young* and Trey Maslin.

MADISON (2): Daniel Nash and Dylan Hilemon.

NORTH BUNCOMBE (2): Bryce Myers* and Trenton Bullman.

ROBBINSVILLE (2): Skyler Matheson and Cruz Galaviz.

ANDREWS (1): Jacob Whitaker.

BREVARD (1): Nick Siniard.

CHRIST SCHOOL (1): Walker Lanning.

ERWIN (1): Chavis Williams.

HENDERSONVILLE (1): Cole Cleary.

MITCHELL (1): Dalton Beaver.

NORTH HENDERSON (1): Aston Woodring.

PISGAH (1): Trevor Johnson.

REYNOLDS (1): Jared Green.

ROBERSON (1): Seth Griswold.

ROSMAN (1): Tanner Green.

SMOKY MOUNTAIN (1): Zeb Speir.

WEST HENDERSON (1): Alex Ball.

* Returning conference player of the year or conference position player of the year.

Owen rising senior running back Jager Gardner was the 2013 Western Highlands Conference Player of the Year.

Owen rising senior running back Jager Gardner was the 2013 Western Highlands Conference Player of the Year.


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