Ever since he signed his letter of intent to play at the University of Washington, the words Jake Locker and Heisman candidate have been tied together here in the Seattle area.
Locker came in at a time when UW football had just taken a huge hit, and with a new coach and a blue chip quarterback recruit, things finally looked to be headed the right direction.
It may have taken three years, but 2010 has all the ingredients for Locker to make a trip to NY at the end of this year.
Bursting on the scene in 2007, Locker used his rushing ability to carry his team, producing 986 yards on the ground. There was a reason for so much running; however, he was not at all accurate in his passing attempts. Locker completed only 47.3 percent of his passes, and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns.
Head Coach Tyrone Willingham was hanging on for his job, so using Locker’s natural ability seemed like the good idea. After all, there would be three more years to develop Locker’s passing game.
The 2008 season began with an ugly loss to rival Oregon, and followed up with a controversial one point loss to BYU. Sadly for the Huskies, the unconvential call would be the highlight of the season. In the fourth game Locker hurt himself blocking and was out for the rest of the season.
At that point the Huskies season was over, and they proceeded to go winless for the first time in the teams long history. As painful as that season was to watch, perhaps it is better that Locker spent most of it on the sideline? In the first four games Locker had 56 rushing attempts compared to 50 passing attempts.
There is little evidence to suggest Willingham would have put any more emphasis on Locker’s development as a passer, and with more rushing attempts than passing, it might have only been a matter of time before the young man went down. Locker’s 2008 injury may very well have been a key to his run for the 2010 Heisman.
With the 0-12 2008 season Willingham was shown the door. In comes QB guru Steve Sarkisian to take over the job as a head coach. Sarkisian wasn’t fighting for his job in season one, he was implementing a plan for the future. Part of his plan for 2009 was to develop Jake Locker as a pass-first quarterback.
Had Locker stayed healthy in 2008, and the Huskies end up winning enough games to save Willingham’s job, does anyone really think Willingham would put such a focus on Locker remaining in the pocket? Going off of his two years coaching the young man, he would have let him run for his life to win some games, and hopefully get Willingham an extension.
2009 was frustrating to watch as a Husky fan, if only because the team was competeting for the first time in years, but still coming up short. Five wins was an improvement, but still not what fans around Montlake have come to expect over the years. It was especially frustrating early in the season watching Locker have field in front of him to run, but instead would sit back and end up throwing a bad pass.
Yes, it was painful to watch at first, but by the end of the season we all started to see exactly why Sarkisian was keeping Locker on a leash. He jumped from a career completion percentage of around 50 percent, to nearly meeting Sarkisian’s goal of 60 percent accuracy. Locker's touchdown total went from more INTs than TDs, to a 21-11 ratio.
Locker basically blossomed into the passer we all felt he could be before our eyes in 2009. When the last two games came around, Locker’s play was exactly what Washington fans had been dreaming of since he first stepped on campus.
Now we are going into 2010 with Locker’s Huskies as a bit of a wild card. The offense is talented and potent enough to score on anybody, but can the defense keep them in the game?
What we do know for sure is this is Locker’s year to shine. The physical attributes have the NFL scouts drooling, 6-3, 226 lbs, and a 40 time that has been reported as low as 4.39, but is more realistically closer to 4.5.
Now Locker has experience to match his physical traits, and a team of returning starters around him that will put Locker into an excellent position to shine in the spotlight that he has hovered close to for three years.
We all know that Heisman finalists come from winning teams. Locker’s career at UW has been short on wins, but long on character-building experience. The physical traits are there, the maturation is there, and as a redshirt senior it is time for him to leave Montlake as the winner we all envisioned he would be the day he stepped foot on campus.