Lompoc High football’s defense has an extra coach on the staff – in shoulder pads and helmet.
Jimmy Gardner isn’t just considered the Braves’ top safety option, as he collects tackles or seals off running angles on the field as the last line of defense. Additionally, Gardner is the guy calling out the defensive schemes and making sure his fellow defenders are aligned right on each play – similar to what a defensive backs coach or defensive coordinator does from the sidelines.
But Gardner executes those traits on the field – making him one of the more cerebral players on the Central Coast.
Even if he sees a change on the opposing offense that wasn’t spotted in film sessions before, Gardner is adept at pointing out the new look and getting his defenders to realign themselves to counter the unexpected play. He’s been described as a film rat who meticulously watches Hudl during his spare time so he can get a better gauge on his opponents.
And he’s spent his week dissecting the Pioneer Valley Panthers on film, as Lompoc will take the trip to PVHS on Friday to open their Los Padres League slate. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
His own head coach Andrew Jones has referred to his own player as a coach-type in pads and cleats.
“He’s been our quarterback on defense. He’s the guy who orchestrates how everyone is lined up correctly. He does a lot of the homework. He’s like an extra coach on the field,” Jones said before Wednesday’s practice.
Gardner has played varsity football at Huyck Stadium for three seasons. His career stats aren’t the most astronomical – as Gardner has collected 85 career tackles and one interception. But Jones knows his defense becomes cerebral and efficient with Gardner in the lineup. The head coach also believes Gardner is irreplaceable once he graduates in June.
“He’s definitely a guy we’ll miss in the near future and someone who will be hard to replace. He’s been extremely reliable,” Jones said. “He’s a student of the game. He’s every coach’s dream. If I had 50 Jimmy Gardner’s, I would sleep well every night.
“He’s always here, always on time and always working. I’ve never seen him complain. He’s what every coach looks for.”
Jones has labeled his safety as an on-field coach, but do the fellow Brave players call him “Coach Gardner?”
“No, they don’t,” Gardner said, smiling. “But I feel I get a lot of respect for it on the field on a personal perspective. I appreciate that thought coming from him (Jones). I just like to motivate everybody – just get everyone to give it their 110 percent. Get them to do their jobs.”
Last season, Gardner helped energize a Brave defense that went 33 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown during their 12-1 campaign. This year’s defense has attained similar success during the 6-0 start, as the Braves have surrendered just six points in the last 12 quarters they’ve played.
Gardner doesn’t just point out the offenses’ alignments, but he’s also motivating the younger Braves to be on par with everyone else.
“Every practice and every week I feel like we get better and better. With all the young guys every year coming up, I feel like we get stronger every year. But we still have a ton of room to grow,” Gardner said.
If there’s one reason behind Gardner’s cerebral and leadership prowess, it’s the last loss Lompoc endured: The semifinal playoff loss to Corona del Mar that ended the Braves’ season.
“After the CdM game last year, that game put a lot of weight on my shoulders,” Gardner said. “I felt like I had to come out here (at practice) and step it up a lot. Just being that guy on the field who had to take charge.”
Once the shoulder pads and helmet get turned in, will Gardner put on a polo shirt and carry a whistle in the future?
“I’ve thought about it because I’ve been around the game for so long. It’s always a possibility,” Gardner said.
As it is, the Braves have produced future coaches. Outside of Jones, the list of former Brave players turned coaches include Matt Sims (LHS offensive line coach), Derek Aguilar (Cabrillo assistant), Eric Pacheco (CHS assistant), Nate Mendoza (Dos Pueblos head coach), Ricky Aguilar (Hancock College defensive coordinator) and Justice Clegg (offensive line coach, Graceland University). Jones himself sees a future coach in Gardner.
“Oh yeah,” Jones said. “I think those guys have the similar attributes Jimmy has. The guys who get into the coaching field were always on time, always had good grades and you didn’t have to worry about them outside of school. They were always respectable. We have great stud athletes, but Jimmy would be toughest to fill because he was that extra coach on the field.”