Alex Gardner was just a two-star running back — on a five-star scale.
He had a good senior season at Jacksonville Raines but not stellar, rushing for fewer than 1,100 yards.
And in terms of size, at 5-9 and 185 pounds, Gardner wasn’t one of those players that impressed scouts coming off the bus.
That helps explain why he had no offers from Power Five schools, getting recruited instead by schools such as Wyoming, Florida Atlantic and FIU.
Gardner chose FIU, and despite a lack of hype surrounding his game, he set a rather audacious goal — to set the Panthers career rushing record.
Late Saturday night, Gardner accomplished his goal, breaking the previous record of 2,195 yards set by Rashod Smith, who played for FIU from 2002-04.
Gardner ran 14 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-14 win over visiting Marshall on Saturday. The junior now has 2,221 yards — with an entire senior season to add to his total.
Now listed at 5-10 and 192 pounds, Gardner said the record was on his mind on Saturday.
“Yes it was, but not more than beating Marshall,” he said. “Our school had never beaten Marshall [0 for 4] until [Saturday]. I have a big hatred toward Marshall because they broke my collarbone my freshman year. And last year, they held me to nine yards.”
After he got the record, Gardner had to duck for cover because of all the support he received from his teammates.
“They just bombarded me,” he said. “I couldn’t even catch my breath. But it’s cool. This record ... I set this goal when I was in high school.”
FIU (4-7, 4-3 Conference USA) will close out its season next Saturday at Old Dominion. The Marshall win closed out the home careers for 13 FIU seniors.
The Panthers played Saturday without starting quarterback Alex McGough, who has a left (non-throwing) wrist injury. He has missed two straight games but could return Saturday.
FIU’s Maurice Alexander, a redshirt freshman from Booker T. Washington, started his third game of the season and completed 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards. He was intercepted twice.
The Panthers also used their other redshirt freshman backup quarterback, Christian Alexander, who is from Lakeland and is not related to Maurice. Christian completed four of five passes for 53 yards and one touchdown.
The good news for FIU was that senior tight end Jonnu Smith (one catch, 15 yards) played for the first time since a violent incident with his pregnant girlfriend. Police say she poured boiling water on Smith.
“That’s our top guy,” Gardner said of Smith. “He’s a playmaker. He’s arguably the best player on our team.”