Scott Gardner has more than 30 years’ experience in the pool business in Sarasota, Fla. But there’s a side of him most of his customers haven’t seen. “From time to time, people will ask ‘What’s something no one knows about you?’” he says. “Well, I was a centerfold in Playboy magazine.” Ummm, sort of. Gardner was named the quarterback on Playboy’s 1975 preseason All-American college football team. As such, he was pictured with 24 other men — all fully clothed — in the magazine.

Gardner was certainly worthy of the honor. He was a top quarterback at the University of Virginia, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in passing yardage in the 1973 and 1975 seasons. “My junior year was my best year,” he says. “At that point, I was leading the nation in total offense.”

Before that, Gardner was a high school star, playing quarterback for his hometown Sarasota Riverview High. He led a team that had been on a run of several losing seasons to a 9-1 record in his senior year. “My senior year was the start of good things at Riverview,” he says. His performance that season won him a scholarship to Virginia.

After his senior season at Virginia, Gardner was drafted in the eighth round of the 1976 draft by the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Heading to training camp, he was eager to have the chance to play with O.J. Simpson, who had led the NFL in rushing the previous season. Gardner didn’t make the team however, getting cut when the league mandated roster reductions for all teams during the preseason. Attempts to catch on that season with the New York Jets and Green Bay Packers didn’t work out.

Other than football, Gardner had no career plans. He hadn’t finished his economics degree at Virginia. “That’s one of the regrets of my life,” he says. “I was a stereotypical football player. Football was my focus and I neglected my studies, and I know now what a waste that was.”

Gardner bided his time until the 1977 season, working at a Sarasota Boys’ Club before signing as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “I didn’t show ’em much, I don’t think,” he says. After being cut in the preseason by the Bucs, Gardner went to work in his father’s pool construction business in Sarasota.

In 1978, Gardner took one more shot at the NFL, going to camp with the Washington Redskins — “I think they just needed an arm for practice,” he says — but was cut again. That can happen when you’re trying for spots held by Joe Theismann and Billy Kilmer.

“After the third year, I started in the pool business for good, gave up the football dream, got married and moved back to Florida,” he says.

Gardner went to work for his father full time, eventually taking over the business. It started as a pool construction business but Pools by Gardner now concentrates on refinishing and servicing pools.

Thirty-six years after taking his last college snap, Gardner’s knees are a little sore and he has a bit of arthritis in his neck, reminders of his playing days. But he took away some skills that have helped him in business. “I’m able to work with people and work toward a common goal,” he says.

Gardner is still married to his college sweetheart, Gerry, who was also an athlete at Virginia. She was on the first intercollegiate women’s basketball team fielded by the school.

A career in pool service has proven to be a good fit for Gardner. “I like the freedom I have with my business,” he says. In the past several years, Gardner has put much of his energy into his church. He and his wife have gone on several mission trips overseas, including excursions to Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.

One thing Gardner has kept in mind is customer service. “It’s great to be your own boss, but in some ways you have 55 bosses,” he says. “You have to keep your customers happy.”

Extra points

  • The University of Virginia teams are known as the Cavaliers.
  • Scott Gardner is still tied for third all-time among Virginia touchdown passing leaders, with 33.
  • Gardner is fourth among UVa. passers with 5,218 yards in his four seasons there.
  • Twins Ronde and Tiki Barber are among Virginia alumni who have starred in the NFL.