How Jake Locker Will Be Remembered As a Washington Husky

Alan OlsonContributor INovember 29, 2010

Jake Locker turned down a big payday to bolster his legacy at UW
Jake Locker turned down a big payday to bolster his legacy at UWStephen Dunn/Getty Images

Jake Locker’s senior season didn’t exactly go as planned. In all honesty it didn’t even come close.

After showing huge improvement in his passing ability as a junior, he was tabbed the likely top pick in the NFL Draft and a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

Things fell apart quickly before inconsistent play and growing pains caught up with the rebuilding Huskies. Nobody suffered more because of the disappointing season than Locker, who has dropped off dramatically in draft projections and lost millions of dollars he would have made by entering the draft after last season.

Heroes and legends are born from struggle and adversity and namely how they stand up to the odds. The legacy that will define Jake Locker as a Husky lies well beyond what the numbers show.

It’s a safe assumption that Jake Locker doesn’t seek out the spotlight. But when he signed his letter of intent, it was immediately thrust upon him by a fan base in need of something to believe in again.

The program was in turmoil since the Rose Bowl season of 2000 and had been spiraling quickly downward since the Nueheisel gambling pool controversy. Jake was seen as a savior for the once-proud team that hadn’t made a bowl game in four years and the sentiment may not have been completely unwarranted. He was a home-grown blue chip recruit that could’ve had his pick of any school in the nation but committed to the struggling Huskies. His mastery of the Wing-T offense at Ferndale made him a perfect successor to dual-threat Isaiah Stanback in coach Tyrone Willingham’s spread offense.

The fan base fell immediately in love with the humble kid with a blue-collar mentality.From the start it was a perfect marriage.

During the Jake era, the Huskies underwhelmed and underachieved consistently but the fans were still very patient with his development. As a redshirt freshman he dazzled the Pac-10 as a dual-threat quarterback who almost rushed for 1,000 yards while showing a smooth transition into a passing quarterback as well despite timing and accuracy issues.

Early returns seemed to indicate that Jake came as advertised and had the leadership skills necessary to be the missing piece for a Husky team ready to take the next step. The 5-7 record of his freshman year showed how close the Huskies were to being a relevant team again.

However, the bottom fell out the next season as the Huskies limped to a 0-12 finish after losing Jake to a broken thumb. Husky nation was bleak and there was little to be enthused about after the program’s first winless season.

Then offensive guru Steve Sarkisian showed up on Montlake and turned the ship around while making Jake a top quarterback prospect in the process. The team overachieved to finish 5-7 last season which helped set the unreasonably high expectations that the team had no chance of reaching this year.

It was wishful thinking for the fans to think the team could reach the Rose Bowl or that Jake Locker had a chance of winning the Heisman Trophy. Both points were made painfully clear in the first game of the season on the road at BYU where the team faded down the stretch and Jake played flat with the game on the line.

Still, we were willing to make excuses like it’s hard to go on the road for the first game of the year especially in the mountains of Utah and that Jake was let down by a young offensive line that still wasn’t starting to jell yet. It might seem immature and ignorant for an entire fan base to be so willing to give a player or team every benefit of the doubt but that just shows the respect and admiration that fans have for Jake Locker.

In a sense, he seems like just another one of the guys—if that guy happened to run like a running back and possessing a rocket arm. He endeared himself forever to Washington fans simply by signing his name on a piece of paper to play at a program on the downside when he could’ve picked any team that was competing for championships.

Like a favorite son, Husky fans have always wanted the best for Jake and it’s more than a bit distressing that he’s been at UW for the worst five-year period in recent memory.

It’s why fans were all too eager to buy into the notion that this team could make it to the Rose Bowl or that Jake had a realistic shot to win individual awards such as the Heisman or the O’Brien Award. It was tough to see a season of promise go so wrong despite the best efforts from Jake and even more difficult once he was slowed by a broken rib.

It’s not easy to define what will be Jake Locker’s legacy in Husky lore. His career record as a starter is a pedestrian 12-26 though much of that has to do with the lack of a talented supporting cast.

His career stats are above average given the protection and talent issues but Locker shoulders plenty of the blame himself. It’s another reason he is so beloved by fans and teammates—his maturity and selflessness is something rarely seen among college athletes these days and is a sure breath of fresh air among the controversy consistently surrounding college football.

Even his reasons for making the questionable decision to return for his senior season were far from selfish. Despite a surely huge payday as the likely top overall pick last season, he returned to settle some unfinished business; namely taking UW back to a bowl game.

Not once did he say, or even imply that he came back because he had any chance of winning the Heisman or improving his draft stock. He knew that without him the Huskies were doomed to be worse off than they are now without him under center.

Just because the season didn’t go as planned doesn’t mean he can’t be considered one of the all-time great Huskies. It might be hard to warrant him a Husky legend day based solely on his body of work in college, but for fans he’ll always be the player that wanted to be a Husky. He chose Washington over a number of better-off programs and when his stock was sky-high, he turned down a big payday to finish his eligibility.

It was only fitting as someone that never sought out the spotlight that his final home game was won on the legs of Washington’s running backs.

Being a Husky meant more to him than being a star and you could see how touched and overwhelmed he was by the crowd’s chants of “Thank you, Jake,” and “Locker, Locker.” It was a moment fit for someone who sacrificed so much to be a part of the program that it was the least the fans could do to return the favor.