Alex Ross put up some solid numbers at quarterback with Coastal Carolina from 2012-2015. He finished his college career with 72 touchdown passes and 9,918 yards while completing 64.7% of his passes. He was not selected in the 2016 draft, and saw time in camp with the Atlanta Falcons. He then saw time in the CFL for the British Columbia Lions (2017) and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2018).
In 2019, Alex signed with the Alliance of American Football. He was allocated to the Memphis Express., however during the Pick or Protect QB Draft, he’d be selected with the final choice of the draft by the San Diego Fleet. The Fleet had issues from the get go at quarterback. With Josh Johnson signing with the Redskins, and Mike Bercovici inconsistent, Philip Nelson stepped in, but he too was injured.
During Week 4, Alex came in to replace Nelson at quarterback against the Memphis Express. He’d toss a score on 8 of 18 passes, going for 80 yards on the day, but threw an interception and lost 2 fumbles. He’d back up Bercovici for the remainder of the season. Currently Alex is a free agent.
Ja’Quan Gardner played runningback for Humboldt State University from 2014 to 2017. While playing for the Lumberjacks he compiled some truly impressive numbers. During his Sophomore run, Gardner had 2266 rushing yards on 337 carries and 25 TDs. He finished his career for the Jacks with 880 carries, 5,495 yards, and 72 TDs, Ja’Quan was also a talented receiver out of the backfield managing 81 career receptions for 767 yards and 4 TDs.
Gardner, despite his numbers did not receive a call to attend the NFL combine or get drafted in 2018. A sparkplug- at 5’6″- teams probably shied from his size and small school stature. He received a tryout call for the San Fransisco 49ers- but after working out, didn’t hear back from them. Still Ja’Quan stayed in playing shape and waited for his chance.
Three months later he received the call from the 49ers, but he thought that his agent was joking with him. The 49ers though were aching at runningback with Matt Brieda, Jerick McKinnon, and Joe Williams all being bit by the injury bug entering the team’s final preseason contest. More of an insurance policy for the team than anything else, Gardner spent all of 3 days on the roster before being waived.
Ja’Quan was allocated to the San Diego Fleet of the AAF in 2019. Gardner came recommended by a Chargers scout to head coach Mike Martz, so despite not really knowing who he was, the coaching staff decided to take a stab at him. Runningbacks in Mike Martz’s systems tend to be do-it-all backs- and Gardner took the lead role.
During his debut against the San Antonio Commanders, Gardner rushed 8 times for 55 yards, but the Fleet were thankfully more interested in passing the ball- than rushing the ball. Ja’Quan was fast once he hit the hole. His size and gameplay speed were quite deceptive.
“He can change direction and he has good hands. He’s very patient and if the hole’s there — boom, he’s gone.”
– DAVE BOLLIER SAN DIEGO FLEET
Ja’Quan came back the next weekend and ran all over the Atlanta Legends. He’d carry the load for the Fleet rushing for 104 yards and on 15 carries. His 2 rushing TDs were both scored in the 4th quarter and were the first of the season on the ground for the franchise. Gardner was also the second player in the history of the league to record a 100 yard effort- only behind Zac Stacy who had beaten him to the punch only by a few hours.
In Week 3, Gardner powered the Fleet to a dominating victory over their rival San Antonio Commanders in San Diego, 31-11. During the 3rd quarter, Ja’Quan took a hand-off up the middle and dashed a record 83 yards to pay dirt. He also finished with 122 yards on 12 carries, which also stood as a league record- and he became the first player in league history to rush for 100 yards in back to back games.
“His run reads are impeccable. He sees things so well.” – MIKE MARTZ HEAD COACH
Teams began to gameplan against Gardner, and with injuries slowly taking their toll, he didn’t see the same measure of success the rest of the season. Still Ja’Quan finished 8th in the league in rushing with 311 yards in 7 games. Gardner wanted to get a shot with another NFL team, so he needed to rehab a shoulder injury. Shortly before Week 8, he’d be placed on IR. -Soon thereafter the league folded.
I love me some runningbacks and Gardner, despite gashing my team for 122 yards, was one of my favorites. I have been collaborating with Mark from Mark’s Signing Bonus. I had seen the address for Gardner after internet snooping only a day or two before he messaged me to tell me that he had luck with Ja’Quan. I excitedly put together the Topps Now cards and his base and sent them out. He not only responded- Gardner wrote a touching note thanking me for being a fan and supporting him.
I thought Gardner would make a nice fit for the XFL- perhaps the Houston Roughnecks where they went full Run N Shoot, but alas the Seattle Dragons nabbed him, Kenneth Farrow, AND Trey Williams. Ja’Quan in 5 games finished with 35 carries for 127 yards and a 13 yard long before the league shut down due to COVID concerns after the 5th game.
Ja’Quan wrote me another nice note thanking me for being a fan and writing him again. I hope he returns to the XFL again and keeps chasing his football dreams.
A versatile and consistent linebacker, AJ Tarpley played for the Stanford Cardinal from 2011-2014. Over his 4 years he totaled out 299 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, 8 pass deflections and 2 fumble recoveries.
He was not selected in the 2015 NFL Draft, however AJ was snatched up by the Buffalo Bills. After bouncing off and back onto the roster as a practice squad member, he was elevated late in the season to the regular season roster. AJ turned out to be a stellar find by the franchise, and saw action in the final month of the season, starting 2 games, recording 8 tackles, a forced fumble, and 2 interceptions.
“I have no current residual effects that I am aware of, cognitively or physically. The decision I made to retire from football is about coming to terms with the totality of my concussion history and what is asked of me as a linebacker.”
-AJ Tarpley at his retirement in 2016
In early 2016, citing concussion concerns, AJ retired, stunning the football world. AJ had suffered 3-4 concussions the previous season, and doctors were advising him to be careful. He briefly entered the financial world working on wall street, but he kept hearing the siren’s call of football.
AJ decided to return to football in 2019, signing with the San Diego Fleet of the AAF. AJ started 6 games for the Fleet, posting 35 total tackles and an interception he returned 27 yards for a touchdown in San Diego’s route of the San Antonio Commanders 31-11, in Week 3. For his efforts in that game, AJ was named AAF Defensive Player of the Week and enshrined with his Topps AAF Now card (that routinely is overpriced at $50,00 on EBay). After the league folded Tarpley was mentioned by Coach Mike Martz as being the ‘most NFL ready’ of his players.
“He’s the centerpiece of our defense. I don’t know why he is not in the NFL.”
– Fleet Head Coach Mike Martz
It was hard not to like the Fleet in general. A team full of characters, I really took to Ja’Quan Gardner, Dontez Ford, and Berco on offense, but the defense- in particular- there was Ron Brooks and AJ Tarpley. I had identified Tarpley as the motor of the Fleet defense in the preseason and really liked his background. I am glad that he was able to resurrect his career (even at the expense of the Commanders).
When I pulled this card, I knew I had to have it signed. MSB (Mark’s Signing Bonus) came through and helped me out again on the address. I was hoping to get his Topps Now entry on the cheap, but I could not get the price down so after a slight delay I go this out the door to him.
AJ was selected by the DC Defenders of the new XFL 2020 intiative during the open phase portion of the league’s initial draft.
Celebrating the game, the players, the cards, and the autographs for over 25 years.