Countdown to Kickoff: 6 days away with defensive back Justin Gardner

Leading up to the start of K-State's 2021 football season, the Collegian takes a look at what to expect and highlights every player on the roster. (Archive photo by Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

Less than a week until the season opener, the Collegian highlights No. 6 senior defensive back, Justin Gardner.

While Gardner was a natural fit wearing purple and white this past season, it took him a few colors to get here.

Out of Shiloh High School in Snellville, Georgia, Gardner started his collegiate career at Oregon State. After redshirting his freshman season and only playing in two games the following season, Gardner made his way to Kansas. However, he had another year before making it to Manhattan.

To get some more experience, Gardner played at Hutchinson Community College, earning Second-Team All-Conference honors for the Dragons. At Hutch, Gardner racked up 19 tackles, three for a loss, an interception, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. This production earned Gardner the 18th best community college cornerback rating by ESPN.

Gardner made his commitment to Kansas State public through Twitter on Dec. 18, 2019.

Arriving at K-State in 2020, Gardner made an immediate impact. He saw action in nine games and started in the first five Big 12 matchups. He made seven defended passes and two interceptions during that time, tying for fifth and seventh in the Big 12.

Gardner’s first interception was a big play in the win against No. 3 Oklahoma. His second interception was also his first collegiate touchdown with a pick-six against Kansas. Gardner jumped in front of a screen pass and saw nothing but open field for about 20 yards. He also had four pass defenses against TCU — the fifth-most nationally in a single game during the 2020 season.

Gardner was named a preseason fourth-team All-Big 12 performer by Phil Steele’s College Football Preview, proving it isn’t just K-State fans eager to start the new season.

Head coach Chris Klieman is among those excited to see Gardner join the slew of defensive back talent going into the 2021 season.

“He’s a really physical guy,” Klieman said in a preseason press conference. “He has great length and is aggressive. He’s another one of those guys that we feel better because we have more guys at corner, and Justin can be a difference-maker.”

Alongside senior defensive backs Jahron McPherson, Russ Yeast and Ross Elder, the Wildcats are slated to have a solid secondary with Gardner’s 6 foot 2 inch frame. With depth from experienced players and incoming team members, K-State might lean towards the top of the Big 12 in defensive passing categories.