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Alcorn State OL Timothy Gardner’s college career started by getting kicked off the team. Years later, he’s pursuing his NFL dreams.

LORMAN — Typically, when a National Football League scout comes to an Alcorn State University practice, they only stay for 15 minutes before heading to places such as LSU, Ole Miss or Mississippi State. They are just really there to say they saw the Braves.

However, this year was different. When a scout came to Lorman, they had a reason to stay for a while to talk with coaches and to ask questions. That reason was a 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive lineman named Timothy Gardner.

“We had several scouts come by and watch him,” said offensive line coach Ryan Stanchek. “We had a lot of guys come by and ask about him. They definitely know about him and someone is going to be lucky when they pick him up. Either in the draft or as a priority free agent. Someone is going to get very, very lucky.”

First Pro Day

“Dreams and Nightmares” by Meek Mill blared over the sound system in Alcorn’s weight room. Gardner is stretching in preparation for his pro day on Tuesday. Yet, this isn’t Gardner’s first pro day.

Per an NCAA rule, draftable athletes can partake in two pro days in their universities’ home states. For example, an Alcorn State player can participate in the Braves’ Pro Day and also perform at Mississippi State’s, which is exactly what Gardner did a week ago.

During Mississippi State’s Pro Day, Gardner had the opportunity to showcase his talents in front of all 32 NFL teams. And in Gardner’s mind, he said he thought he made the most of it.

Gardner did 22 reps on the bench press, had a broad jump of 8 feet and 6 inches, ran his 40-yard dash time in between 5.2 and 5.3 seconds and ran the short shuttle in 4.9 seconds.

Despite testing well, Gardner said he believes he made the biggest impression on scouts last week during the position work portion of the pro day.

“In the game of football, this testing and stuff is great,” Gardner said. “They want to see how fast you are, how strong you are, but when it comes that time in the fall, they want to see if you can block that person. Can I hold my spot down at whatever position they have me at? That’s what it comes down to. So I believe I had a great day at Mississippi State. I checked all the boxes.

“I finished my blocks. I got a little nasty.”

Gardner said he felt he showed just how elusive and technically sound he is.

After the MSU Pro Day, Gardner talked to seven offensive line coaches from various NFL teams. He even had a one-on-one 30-minute position workout with the Los Angeles Chargers’ offensive line coach.

While Gardner was all smiles talking about his performance in Starkville, he just feels blessed he is in the position  he is currently in.

Rocky beginning

Gardner is comfortable saying he came from nothing.

His grandmother, Sharon Anderson, raised him and his three brothers, he said. She put in long work days so they could do something with their lives. Gardner has had multiple chances to do something with his. It just took him some time to do so.

Coming out of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, Gardner earned a scholarship and signed his National Letter of Intent to play at Ohio State. However, he would not last long in Columbus, Ohio, as he was arrested on a charge of obstruction of official business before the fall of his freshman year and was dismissed from the programaccording to multiple reports.

Gardner then found himself at a prep school, and then at Indiana University. Yet, he said he did not feel like he was seizing his opportunity in Bloomington.

That is where Stanchek entered the picture.

“He was a (graduate assistant) at Indiana while I was there,” Gardner said.

Although Stanchek was at IU when Gardner arrived, he eventually left to take the offensive line coach job at Alcorn State. But after two years, Gardner was looking for his next stop after appearing in 11 games in 2015 with the Hoosiers.

He was looking for a place to start.

“So, I knew coming down here that I would have great opportunities,” Gardner said. “I took advantage of that. I took a visit down here. Since the summer of 2016, it’s been history ever since.”

In each of his two seasons at Alcorn, Gardner was an All-SWAC offensive lineman and helped the Braves establish one of the best running games in the conference. And in 2016, he was a part of a line that was top-10 in the nation in sacks allowed, giving up just 0.90 per game.

Gardner’s potential

Throughout Stanchek’s time as a coach, he has worked with many lineman who were drafted — including some that when in the first three rounds. He worked with five NFL Draft picks in his time at Florida State and two more while at Indiana.

“I think (Gardner) has the ability to play guard or tackle at that level, for sure,” Stanchek said. “In my opinion, he will make a team because he is a swing guy. He can be an NFL left guard, which I think would be his position, but he can also be that emergency tackle if need be.

“He does the little things well. From his stance to his first step and half placement. He does a great job. His pass protection is really good.”

Not only does Stanchek believe Gardner’s ceiling is high, he also believes that Gardner possesses the quickest hands out of any of the offensive lineman he has coached.

Although Stanchek raved about Gardner’s potential, he does think Gardner needs to get a little stronger if he wants to make it in the NFL. However, Gardner is just glad Stanchek has helped him get to this point.

“I give a lot my success to him,” Gardner said. “We worked closely with one another. There’s no shortcuts to the top. What differentiates the greats, the pro-bowlers, from the average starters is work ethic. We all are talented. We all can go out there and ball out. We all can go out and bench 400, 500 pounds. But what is going to separate us is our work ethic and attention details. He paid close attention to details and instilled that in me.”

Yet, Stanchek could not take any of the credit Gardner gave him.

“Tim has paved his own way,” Stanchek said. “God has put him here for a reason. I hope continues to work hard.”

New opportunity

At Alcorn’s Pro Day, Gardner was all smiles.

When Drake’s new single “God’s Plan” came over the sound system in the weight room, Gardner was singing and dancing along. But once the music went quiet, Gardner’s face went from smiles to complete focus.

He was ready to seize his next opportunity.

Garrett Kroeger is the Alcorn State beat writer and high school sports reporter at The Natchez Democrat.
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Garrett Kroeger, The Natchez Democrat
Alcorn State Beat Writer , The Natchez Democrat
Garrett Kroeger is the Alcorn State beat writer and high school sports reporter at The Natchez Democrat.

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