|By Ben Handel, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Instead, the 16-year-old linebacker was handed a sobering reminder that some things are more important than sports when his father, former
"It as a big honor and was such a crazy day, but for my dad to not be there to experience it with me, it was really hard for me," Jaden said. "My dad had told me he wanted to help me achieve my goals, and when I decided I wanted to play college football, he was right there helping me. For him not being able to be there when I got the offer was very hard.
"It's a big deal, getting your first offer from a college, but the importance of it was really weighed down. Not having my dad there showed what really matters in life."
Bryson was an athlete all of his life and earned a full-ride scholarship at the
"We ended up meeting in the fall of '96 when we had a speech class together," Laura said. "We started dating the next year and in '98 we had Jaden when we were both still going to school at
"When Jaden was just a few months old,
Bryson graduated with degrees in business administration and sociology and was drafted into the
Bryson landed a job as a Nike combine trainer and quickly became passionate about helping underprivileged children participate in sports.
"Families pay hundreds of dollars to send their kids to speed and agility camps during the summer, but Bryson recognized lots of families can't afford to pay that," Laura said. "He helped start a foundation called PUSH -- that stands for purpose, unity, service, humility -- and basically it was just helping train the youth of
It wasn't long before the Gardners welcomed two more children into the family. Their second son, Braylen, is now an ambitious 7-year-old gymnast, while their 4-year-old daughter, Jaycie, is an avid soccer player.
Jaden, however, preferred the same sport his father loved.
"Playing football is in my blood, really," Jaden said. "I started playing in seventh grade -- that's when my dad thought I was old enough physically and mentally to handle the stress football puts on you. From then, I just fell in love with it."
In his first year of high school football, however, Jaden encountered hardships. During the first game of the season, an opposing player stomped on his right leg after the whistle had blown, breaking his tibia and fibula.
"He had to have surgery and couldn't walk for eight months," Laura recalled. "He spent a lot of time at home, doing school work here, and he had to relearn how to walk, how to run when his leg healed."