Gardner, a four-star prospect who is 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, originally signed with Oklahoma for the 2012 class but was unable to qualify academically. After initially being disappointed, Gardner shook it off because he knew OU, and especially OU wide receivers coach Jay Norvell, were going to stand by his side.
Throughout the summer and the early fall, Norvell and Gardner had frequent conversations. But last month Gardner said Norvell told him OU was looking in a different direction.
“I want people to know I didn’t give up on OU,” Gardner said. “I did not give up on them at all. I wanted to be a Sooner, but that’s not how things worked out.”
He said he doesn’t have any bad feelings toward OU and its coaching staff. He appreciates everything the players did for him during his visit in January and the times he has talked to them since. It simply wasn’t meant to be, Gardner said.
Not long after Gardner and OU parted ways, LSU entered the picture.
The Tigers coaching staff initially wanted to get Gardner on campus for LSU’s home game against Mississippi State on Nov. 10. Gardner, who is originally from Louisiana, said he wasn’t ready, but he did end up taking an official visit to Baton Rouge the following week for LSU’s thrilling 41-35 win against Ole Miss.
In Gardner’s mind, he’s an LSU commit. He said LSU coaches have told him the wide receiver spot is set for him.
He’s ready to be a Tiger unless he can make it in the NFL. Gardner said he is taking three intersession classes beginning after Christmas that will last until Jan. 17.
Gardner said if he was going to OU, he could have enrolled at OU following those classes. But because he would be looking at LSU, he’ll need another semester at Sierra College before he can head to Baton Rouge.
Gardner was taking online math and English classes this semester that would have transferred to OU but do not transfer to SEC schools. That same restriction is what forced four-star juco tight end Beau Sandland of Pierce College to eliminate all SEC schools from consideration in October as his math online credit would not transfer.
“I am disappointed because now I have to take another set of classes because it doesn’t transfer,” Gardner said. “I have to stay focused, though. Everything happens for a reason.”
The only reason Gardner wouldn’t be taking those math and English classes at Sierra College is because he hopes he could be getting ready for an NFL career.
Gardner is three years removed from graduating high school, so he is eligible to enter the NFL Draft. He said he told LSU coach Les Miles about what he’s thinking and said Miles and the Tigers coaching staff are supporting his decision.
Gardner’s cousin is Nevada safety Duke Williams, who is also getting ready for the draft. Gardner said Williams has been a huge help during this process.
According to Gardner, preliminary reports have him as maybe a fifth-round or sixth-round draft pick. Despite not playing in 2012, Gardner said he is not worried about rust.
“I haven’t played, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t worked,” Gardner said. “I’ve been working every single day. I’ve never stopped training for whatever season I’m getting ready to prepare for.”
Gardner said he understands he won’t be drafted in the first couple of rounds.
“I’m realistic about that," he said. "I get it. Receivers don’t get picked that high. But I’m hoping for maybe a late third-round or fourth-round pick. I think if I go to the combine, I would shock a lot of people.
“I think I can match up well with any of the wide receivers out there with my size and my speed.”
Gardner said he talks to LSU coaches about once every couple of weeks. He said he doesn’t want to bother the Tigers during their preparation for their Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson on Dec. 31. But after the bowl game, he said he is ready to talk often with the coaching staff to get a better feel of how they feel about things and to let them know about his possible NFL future.
If it’s the NFL or LSU, Gardner is excited about the future. He knows if it’s LSU, he can get to the NFL anyway.
“They have a great offense and a great tradition of sending guys to the NFL,” Gardner said. “Dwayne Bowe [Kansas City Chiefs]. Rueben Randle [New York Giants]. Brandon LaFell [Carolina Panthers]. If I have to go to LSU, I’ll do my thing for a year there and get to the NFL that way.”