Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 212 pounds

Class: Senior

Hometown: Chicago

John Gardner came to SIU as a tight end. The 6-foot-5, 212-pounder from Chicago was an all-city selection by the Chicago Sun-Times and a two-star prospect by Rivals.com. He caught 60 passes for 20 touchdowns and 800 yards during his career and redshirted in 2013.

Gardner caught his first collegiate pass at Missouri State last year, going 42 yards. He plays on three of SIU's special teams this year, including kickoff and kickoff return. In this week's Meet A Saluki, Gardner talks about the scariest play in football, winning three state titles with Jabari Parker, and who helped prepare him for anything.

Is kickoff return the scariest play in football?

Sometimes it can be. I think it's the most exciting play, sometimes, because even if you don't get a chance to start on offense, you're actually starting the game. I'm on kickoff or kickoff return, so I always get a chance to start the game. That's pretty good.

You can from Chicago. Where else did you look before coming here?

There were a few schools, like Illinois State. My junior year, I was looking at Western Michigan, and schools like that, but, due to coaches getting fired and people not sticking around, I lost some of those offers. I stuck with SIU because they stuck with me.

What's the mood of the team right now?

The mood is still good. I think the team is still tight. We took a loss that we wish we would have won, but we're not gonna shy away from it. We're gonna rally behind our guys, rally around our quarterbacks and our linebackers, and put our noses in our books, and get back to work.

Is Chicago Simeon High School good in football?

They're doing pretty good. They've having a tough year this year, but, overall, they're usually a good team.

What do you remember about playing basketball there and winning three state titles?

I just remember the brotherhood and how close we were. That's what I try to incorporate here, just us being close and the coaches, and us being tight. That will help us go win games, too, because when we go out there, we can trust our brother. That's how it was at Simeon.

There were a lot of good teams in Chicago when Jabari Parker was with you at Simeon. Was that the place to be, though?

I had Jabari Parker, Kendrick Nunn, Steven Taylor. A pretty good group, I'd say.

What was Parker like?

He was a pretty good kid, pretty humble. He didn't really talk much outside, but when he was with his teammates, he was a silly little kid. He would crack jokes, and stuff.

Were you a guard, or were you a forward?

I was a forward.

Did you want to play basketball in college?

When I was at Simeon for my final year, I was actually thinking about it. I tried. I was focusing on football first. That was my main goal.

Who is the best basketball player on the football team?

Not to sound arrogant, but, besides me, I would have to give it to Bryce Notree. He can play a little basketball.

Who did you look up to growing up?

My mom. She didn't play too many sports, but she ran track. It was just a dedication to everything she does. How she always found a way. There's not a situation that's too tough to figure out, because I felt like I watched my mom do it as a single parent, raising two kids through school and through college. Because of her, I know I can.

— Todd Hefferman

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Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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