Husky fans can breathe a little bit easier today. Jake Locker is returning for his senior season at the University of Washington .
Jake has chosen Washington, yet again.
Locker, arguably the most physically talented player to ever don the Husky purple and gold, at least at the quarterback position, still has unfinished business at Washington.
When he decided to play for the hometown Huskies, his goal was to help lead Washington back to the top of the Pac-10 and make the Huskies a nationally relevant team again.
A four-star recruit out of high school, Locker had numerous schools to choose from. He wasn’t interested in going somewhere else to build a legacy; he wanted to do it at home.
So he chose Washington.
His college career has not gone how he envisioned it, however, and the wins have been hard to come by. Locker was redshirted during his freshman season, and the head coach at the time stuck with it, even when his starting quarterback, Isaiah Stanback, went down.
Coach Willingham knew that Locker was the future and shouldn’t be rushed. It was a future that the coach felt had a lot more wins than was the end result.
When Jake did finally have a chance to get on the field, he showed the fans why he was such a sought-after recruit. Using his dynamic running ability, Locker rushed for 986 yards. His passing, however, left a lot to be desired. He only managed a completion percentage of 47 percent, and threw for slightly over 2,000 yards.
Still, as a redshirt freshman, he showed all the potential in the world, but there was still a lot of work to be done.
Locker's sophomore season was over before it began. He was only able to compete in the first three games before going down with a season-ending injury while throwing a block in the fourth game.
The Huskies' season spiraled into an abyss that bottomed out at a Pac-10 record 12-loss season. It was obvious how much Jake meant to this team, and that the coaching staff was relying heavily on him.
As one might imagine, a 0-12 season does not bode well for a coach’s career, and while Willingham ended the season, he was done after the USC game.
Locker was presented with other options besides football, however. For the second time, Locker was selected in the MLB draft. This time, he chose to sign a contract with the Anaheim Angles, but would still stick with football at the University of Washington.
For the second time, he chose Washington.
Enter former USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Known for his ability to mentor quarterbacks, the possibility of him teaming up with Locker had many fans quite excited. Immediately Sarkisian set to point out that while Locker was the focal point, it was up to the entire team to make it happen.
It is good that it wasn’t all going to be on Jake again, as he had quite a bit to learn about being a quarterback from his new coach. Being the exceptional athlete Locker is, he has always been an NFL prospect. Sarkisian’s goal was to make him a top quarterback prospect, not just an athlete.
After only one season in Sarkisian’s system, that goal has certainly come to fruition. By the middle of the 2009 season Locker was starting to be projected as a top 15 pick in the NFL Draft if he declared.
His passing stats took a huge leap this year, completing 58 percent of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards. By the end of the season he was listed on most draft experts' boards as the No. 2 quarterback coming out, a sure top 15 pick.
Sarkisian had turned Locker from a running quarterback into a quarterback that can run.
While Sarkisian’s, and of course Locker’s, goal of becoming a legitimate top quarterback prospect for the draft has come to fruition, the quarterback's work is still not done at Washington and he knows it. He came here to compete for Pac-10 titles.
He came to Washington to restore a downtrodden team to the one he grew up remembering, a Pac-10 powerhouse. This has not happened yet, as Locker has not experienced a winning record a Washington.
So at the end of the season, Locker once again had a decision to make. Was he going to forego his final season and go after the NFL payday? After all, isn’t the purpose of college to prepare one’s self for professional life?
Being a projected top 15 pick in the National Football League seems to qualify as being prepared for your professional career.
But was Locker really ready? Sure he had put himself in position to be a top draft pick, but was he ready to be thrown to the wolves known as NFL defenses?
He had made incredible progress, and was well on his way to developing those skills, but there is an argument to be made that Locker would greatly benefit from another year in college, learning under Sarkisian, without the pressure of trying to turn an NFL franchise around.
So Locker once again was put in position to make a difficult decision. Does he stay in school, try to build a legacy more on par with the many legendary Husky quarterbacks, and build upon his skillset? Or does he take the NFL money and let the professional coaches have a crack at him?
Locker once again chose Washington.
The expectations are going to be higher than they ever have been for Jake Locker going into his senior season, and he knows this. This time, however, he will have as talented a team around him as he's had during his days in Seattle.
The Huskies were hoping to make a bowl without Locker. Now, with Locker, the expectations are to not just be bowl eligible, but produce a winning season.
It isn’t a decision that doesn’t involve risks. What if he suffers a career-ending injury? How about if his production falls off and his draft status goes down?
The former is a concern for every athlete, but the latter is something Locker most likely would not consider. He believes in himself, like all great athletes have to, and he knows that if he performs like he did during flashes of this year, he could very well be the No. 1 overall pick next year.
So while Locker may be giving up some NFL money now, and a chance at being a high draft pick, his ceiling for success is just that much higher by coming back. We could be looking a second straight year of Locker's draft stock soaring sky high, this time all the way to No 1.
First thing is first for Locker, though, lead his Washington Huskies back to a bowl game.
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