February 18, 2009 Edition

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Drew Gardner wore the number 70 playing on the offensive line for Vanderbilt University.

HHS grad contributor
for bowl-winning Vandy

Gretchen Hunt

Hoxie High School head football coach Tom Sears was there at the beginning of Drew Gardner's football career.

"It was amazing to watch Drew grow from a 6'0" 225-pound ninth-grader, who had never played football, into a 6'6" 310-pound SEC Division I offensive lineman."

As a high school senior, Gardner was recruited by Vanderbilt. He said his four years at the university have been life-shaping.

"To me playing football at Vandy has really shaped and molded me into the adult that I am today," Gardner said. "It has made me grow up and has helped me realize what hard work and dedication really are. It also makes me appreciate things more because I have worked so hard at football, as well as academics."

Gardner red-shirted as a freshman in 2005, continuing to train during fall drills. In 2006, he saw his first collegiate action in Vanderbilt's win over Tennessee State. He also played in games against South Carolina and Tennessee that season.

As a reserve offensive guard, Gardner played in nine games in 2007 and every game in 2008, his final season at Vanderbilt. He also played on the line for the field goal and extra point conversion units.

A trip to the Music City Bowl in Nashville capped his career with the Commodores. Vanderbilt defeated Boston College, 16-14.

"It was an amazing experience going to the bowl game," Gardner said. "The fans and those who were part of putting the bowl together were great. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I am very grateful to have been a part of it."

While Gardner, who is the son of Tim and Paula Gardner, will be graduating from Vanderbilt in May with a business degree, his football career is not yet complete.

"I have one year of eligibility left, and Ouachita Baptist University has offered me a scholarship to play there," he said. "I will be attending there in the fall to get my master's degree."

The three-year HHS starter, was a two-time All-State selection and was selected to play in the Arkansas All-Star Football Game his senior year.

He said he believes the coaches at Hoxie are the best around.

"They really make a difference in kids' lives," he said. "They know how to coach and motivate. Coach Sears knows what he is talking about when it comes to preparing for college, because he went through the same things playing at ASU."

Gardner said even now, he knows he can count on his high school coaches.

"Even though I have been away from high school for a few years, I know that any time I need something I can call any of the coaches and they will do what they can to help me," he said. "I consider myself lucky having played for the coaches at Hoxie."

Coach Sears said it was a pleasure to have coached Gardner.

"I am extremely proud of his accomplishments on and off the field," he said. "It makes me proud to see the type of young man he has turned out to be. He is a great representative of Hoxie High School and our football team."

(Note: This article was originally scheduled to run on Feb. 4 but was delayed due to the ice storm. A story on Gardner's HHS teammate, Brett Shrable, who recently completed his football career at Arkansas State University, was published on Jan. 28.)

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