DITR Kenyon Gardner, ATH, Paxon School for Advanced Studies (Jacksonville, FL)

He’s the “do everything” man. Jack of all trades, master of all. Faster than a speeding bullet, unstoppable once his motor is running, and the motor takes no time at all to take off. Put simply, he is “The Jet”.

I will go more in-depth than this, but you really could boil this article down into two words: dude’s fast. He is just really fast. Gardner is a multi-sport athlete, both playing basketball and, unsurprisingly, running in track. He’s a sprinter, and his numbers are incredibly impressive. Most notably, he runs a 100m dash in the 10.7s, which is one of the best times in the city of Jacksonville this past year. He’s not just fast for a football player: he’s fast for a track athlete, and that speed shows itself throughout his entire game, no matter what position he plays.

I’m listing him as an athlete because it’s unclear which position he’ll shine the most at in college. In high school, he played significant snaps as a junior at running back, wide receiver, safety, and he took returns. He shined at all of these positions, but before breaking down what he looks like at each one specifically, let’s start with the fundamental truth of his game no matter what position he plays: with the ball in his hands, Gardner is electric.

He’s a track athlete, so obviously he’s got the speed to be a problem with the ball in his hands. Once he gets some space, he’s practically unstoppable. The angles you have to take as a tackler to get to him are just so radically different from most other players that defenders have to deal with, so wrong angles get taken often, which allows him to get in front of everyone. And once he is in front of everyone? It’s over. There is no chance that anyone is catching him.

This is all true, but his raw speed might actually not be the most impressive part of his running ability. That would be his acceleration. His top speeds are remarkable, but even more remarkable is how quickly he gets to those top speeds. When the ball is in his hands, it’s like a switch gets flipped and he teleports 5 or so yards in front of him before even the camera can catch up. Gardner has the nickname of “The Jet”, and it only takes a little bit of watching him to see why. When the ball gets in his hands, it really is like an airplane taking flight. It’s this combination of elite speed and elite acceleration that makes getting someone in front of him to just get a chance at making a tackle a herculean task.

Even if someone can get themselves in front of him, that doesn’t guarantee anything. He breaks tackles like a seasoned back despite not having the size profile for that (he’s 5’9, 165 pounds). His combination of elusiveness and sneaky physicality makes him a nightmare to bring down. He will shed arm tackles and get down and dirty to get that extra yard.

He’s a pretty nuanced runner too. The ball carrier vision shows itself on multiple plays, as he has a natural knack for what lane he needs to find to take in order to maximize the yardage gains on each play. It’s these skills as a threat with the ball in his hands that color the perception of everything else about his game at each separate position he plays.

You can tell just by watching him what happened when he started playing football. His first coach probably watched him run for the first time and went “yeah, let’s hand him the football as many times as physically possible,” and thus put him at running back. He knows the position really well, showing a ton of experience with all facets of it. We’ve talked about all of the running abilities he has, but it’s not just that part of the position in which he shines. He shows both the willingness and capacity to pass block, too, which is valuable for a player of his prototype, who might see snaps both in the backfield (especially on passing downs) and as a slot receiver in the future.

He’s new to the wide receiver position, only having started playing it in this past season, but he shows the traits needed to become truly great at it. He posts an impressive 3.5 GPA, so you know he has the intelligence and work ethic needed to put the work in and improve at a new position. He’s not afraid to stand in the danger zone and catch a ball in traffic, his hands are solid, and he already has the “after the catch” part of the job mastered. He really does look like a running back with the ball in his hands no matter where he is on the field when he catches the pass, and that’s a very good thing. He’s pretty small for the position, so what snaps he will get at WR in the future, he will likely get in the slot. 

I see him filling a sort of Malachi Corley-esque role wherever he goes, with a lot of yards after catch opportunities and short yardage catches. Who knows whether he’ll be listed as a running back or wide receiver in the future, his position is “get him the ball in space as many times as possible” and his coaches will simply be tasked with finding the best way to do that. 

That’s not to disparage his abilities on the other side of the field. As a safety, he shows good cover abilities, and the rebounding skills he takes from playing basketball shows itself when he goes up for an interception. He’s not afraid to lay down the boom as a tackler either, as if he’s a heat-seeking missile. Even as a safety though, you can see the switch flip whenever the ball does end up in his hands via a fumble recovery or interception. 

There’s one more aspect of his game that might go unnoticed at first glance – his stamina. He played both ways, seemingly close to 100% of the time on both sides, and fielded returns. He logged full-time stats on both sides of the ball, contributing on over 50 tackles as well as hitting almost 1000 all purpose yards. He’s not a glass cannon that needs to be load managed, he can and will go out there and do whatever the coach asks.

While he has no offers, he has talked to coaches as high as the FBS level. Whatever coach makes the choice to extend an offer to him will find themselves pleased with that decision.

Where did you get the nickname, “The Jet”?

I started naming myself “The Jet”. It came from my Instagram, and then a couple years ago my teammates just started calling me that, and it’s stuck ever since.

What got you into football in the first place? What makes you love it?

I started playing football when I was seven, and I started watching football before then. I thought I should start playing the sport because I thought I would be good at it, with my speed and everything.

You’re a multi-sport athlete. What skills from basketball and track do you utilize when you’re playing football?

For basketball, I’m more of a defensive player for basketball, so those parts help me when I’m playing safety in football. For track, it helps me get faster on the field.

You list yourself as a running back, but you have played a fair bit of wide receiver and safety too. What’s your favorite position to play and why?

My favorite position is running back. My coaches have put me at wide receiver and safety because of my speed, but I started playing football as a running back, so I feel more comfortable playing it.

Other than your speed, is there anything you think you’re best at on the field?

My catching ability is also good, especially catching a difficult pass.

Which NFL player do you try to emulate the most with your own game?

I’ve got a few. For running backs, Travis Etienne is my favorite running back in the league. I love what he does both on and off the field. For wide receiver, I’ll go with Tyreek Hill.

I am not surprised.

Well, yeah. For safety, I’ll go with Sean Taylor, he’s actually why I wear the number 21.

What has been your biggest improvement to your game over the last year or so?

This past year, I scored more touchdowns at receiver than running back, so I’d say I’ve gotten better playing receiver over this last year.

What are some goals for yourself and your team this year?

For the team, obviously I’m trying to win a championship. The past two years, we went to the championship twice and came up short, and this year is the year we’ll get it done. For myself, I am going to try for 1000 all purpose yards this year. I was 2 yards short last year, so I want to get to that.

What do you do outside of practice to improve?

This morning, I was actually doing some training early. I have a trainer, and we go out to the track and do sprints and speed drills. We work out two times a week, going to the gym and trying to get stronger too.