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Cincinnati Bearcats Football Season in Review: Ahmad Gardner

Gardner’s clutch interceptions and overall ability to defend against the pass made him an immediate star for the Bearcats.

Central Florida v Cincinnati Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Numbers

  • 31 tackles
  • 11 passes defended
  • 8 pass breakups
  • 3 interceptions

There was only one true freshman on the All-American Athletic Conference first team for the 2019 season. For a first-year player to stand out above the multitude of upperclassmen, not to mention fellow freshmen, that player would have to produce an exceptional season. That’s just what Ahmad Gardner did and it’s why he earned himself a spot on that league-best roster.

One of the most impressive and unique aspects of Gardner’s ascension is that it was gradual. He wasn’t guaranteed a starting position for much of the season with the Cincinnati Bearcats and he still found a way to gain the respect of the league’s voters. The freshman cornerback did not start during the first eight weeks of the season. At first, that meant he made very little impact. He had just a single tackle and no pass breakups or interceptions in the first four games combined. Then he started to pick up some traction, beginning with an effort against UCF when he put UC ahead for good by scoring a touchdown off an interception in the third quarter.

Unfortunately, although that UCF performance was a sign of things to come, there was still a bit longer to wait. Gardner played well enough in the next two weeks against Houston and Tulsa, but it wasn’t until his performance against East Carolina that he finally jumped up on the depth chart. He had two pass breakups, yet another pick-six and three tackles against the Pirates and was starting the next week against UConn. He never left the starting lineup the rest of the way.

With a starter’s role, Gardner amplified his production, particularly as a tackler. Of his 31 total stops in 2019, 20 came in the last six games of the year. In all, he accumulated those 31 tackles as well as 11 passes defended, eight pass breakups and three interceptions. He tied with Coby Bryant for the team lead in pass breakups, but no Bearcat was better in racking up passes defended. In fact, Gardner tied for eighth in the AAC in the category and that was just one of the reasons he was one of the best defenders in the league as well as a freshman All-American.

The Best of the Best

Oct. 4, 2019 vs. UCF

This was Gardner’s breakout game and it was punctuated by that pick-six. Of course, four tackles and a pass breakup helped as well.

Nov. 2, 2019 vs. East Carolina

Gardner once again came up with a clutch defensive score as his pick-six with 4:38 to play put UC up 43-40. The Bearcats wound up winning 46-43. Gardner also had three tackles and two pass breakups in this one.

Nov. 28, 2019 at Memphis

Gardner’s interception in this game didn’t end with him scoring a touchdown, but it marked his third of the season and was part of one of his best games of the year.

For Next Year

Gardner has hit the ground running at UC and there’s no reason to think he’ll be slowing down in 2020. He’ll be one of the key members of a loaded secondary and with his impressive ability to cover opposing pass catchers, he should once again be a tremendous playmaker for the Bearcats.