Washington Huskies Football: The Flawed Legacy of Jake Locker
Few players come in to college football with as much local fanfare as Jake Locker. Jake was a local kid who had a modest upbringing and became a local legend. His legacy was built upon his improbable run of back-to-back 3A title games with Ferndale High School.
A legend was born out of this small coastal town and the fact that his hometown Washington Huskies were in disarray looking for a player to help turn the once proud program around.
Washington fans were desperate for something good to happened to the team.
After ending their streak of consecutive non-losing seasons at 26 in 2004, the team fell into a downward spiral under the leadership of Ty Willingham. A team accustomed to winning PAC-10 titles was now struggling to find any wins on its schedule.
This era in Husky football was BAD; I mean real bad. Just about as horrible as it gets for a college football fan.
From the inexplicable loss to Air Force to the countless lifeless efforts, fans were on edge. It was amazing how many times the fans thought they finally hit rock bottom, but Ty Willingham was determined to find the deepest, darkest trench and leave his team to rot there.
Fast-forward to 2006 and the recruitment of Jake Locker. Jake is easily one of the best athletes to ever come out of the state of Washington. He ended up being drafted twice in the MLB draft and is well on his way to becoming a high draft pick in the NFL.
Couple this with Washington fans desperate for a Husky savior, and you have a recipe for inflated expectations.
Jake Locker is...
Most knew that Jake would stay home and become a Husky, but the lure of MLB money right away was a cause for concern for many fans. Little did we know as fans that this was Jake's first opportunity to display his loyalty and humility that further endeared him to the fans. Jake spurned MLB and their money to become a Husky.
There were a number of unfortunate circumstances that unfairly elevated Jake's hype:
In the minds of most fans, this was the second coming. Expectations were set that would be hard for Jesus himself to accomplish.
From day one, Jake was a fan favorite and he did not disappoint. He was a great leader, teammate and citizen. All things considered, the sky was truly the limit for Jake.
But, what most fans neglected to understand, was how dysfunctional this team really was. They were a rudderless ship going in circles on a deserted lake. No structure, no confidence and no developed talent around Jake.
Fans and broadcasters alike also neglected to understand that Jake was very inexperienced as a passing quarterback coming out of Ferndale. His high school team ran the Wing-T offense and passed sporadically over the course of Jake's career.
This lack of experience put Jake at a disadvantage as a freshman starting in the PAC-10.
Most PAC-10 quarterback come from pass-happy California or systems that run complex passing offenses. These quarterbacks are seasoned to read defenses and exploit their weaknesses using the pass.
Jake did not have this experience in high school, and it put him at a disadvantage when it came to the passing game. The fact that Jake redshirted his first year only added to the anticipation mounting from his hype.
Fans expected Jake to dominate the PAC-10 the same way he dominated high school, even though that scenario only happens once in a generation (ala Marcus Dupree: http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/ou-football-marcus-dupree/bb0e30bd09eaab389d9ebb0e30bd09eaab389d9e-416533579103?q=marcus+dupree&FORM=VIRE8).
Jake's first career start helped perpetuate the notion that there would be no learning curve for him.
Jake lived up to his hype in his first career start at Syracuse on August 31, 2007. In that game he went 14-19 for 142 yards through the air and rushed for 83 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. It was silly to believe that he could keep this pace up for long.
Tyrone Willingham built his offense around Jake and utilized his best assets: his athleticism and running abilities.
This was a good strategy when you have one good weapon, but it helped to mask the deficiencies in Jake's game that would come back to haunt him in the future.
His accuracy issues were overshadowed by his amazing runs and big plays downfield.
It was unfortunate for Jake that he never really received any serious quarterback training until his redshirt junior season under coach Steve Sarkisian.
Jake already needed to play catch up with his passing skills coming into college, and he received very little help in his first three years under the Willingham regime. Jake was stuck in neutral but his outstanding athleticism allowed him to wow the fans regardless.
The key point of Jake Locker's career (and legacy) happened towards the end of his redshirt junior season.
At this point, Jake was making great strides in the passing game and was beginning to show that he had the ability to become a top flight quarterback. The fans and pundits all took this as a sign that the savior had finally arrived.
Again, it was unfair to put this pressure on Jake, but he gladly took it and ran with it as he did with so much as a Husky.
Following Jake's outstanding efforts against WSU and Cal to close out the 2009 season, the stage was set for a life-altering decision. Jake was No. 1 on just about every draft board and was a rising star in the eyes of NFL scouts. But Jake once again showed his love and loyalty to the program and spurned the NFL to spend one more season as a Husky.
After this show of loyalty, just about everyone in the Husky nation was on the Locker Bandwagon.
Even bitter rivals were starting to root for the guy. This is where the debate really began and a Heisman campaign was just the right fuel for this fire.
The 2010 season kicked off with a road game against BYU, a very winnable game for the Huskies.
The game was close until a touchdown late in the fourth quarter when, on fourth down, Locker missed on the throw that essentially ended the game. It seemed from this point on the fanbase was fractured.
Half of the fans made every excuse under the sun for Jake and the other half blamed him for the loss completely. Like with most situations, it was probably a little of both.
As the season wore on, the fanbase became increasingly split on Jake Locker. Washington beat Syracuse handily but on the heels of a dominant performance by Jermaine Kearse who did most of the damage on bubble screens.
It was hard to tell just how much Locker had improved from the previous years. The constant expectation that Jake was a Heisman-level player only enraged his detractors.
With every over throw, they grew more vicious and discouraging. This was not the savior the UW fans were sold.
Finally it all came to a head on September 13, 2010 when the Cornhuskers came to Husky Stadium. Jake had just about the worst day a quarterback could have. Lockers stat line read like this:
4-20 71 yrds, 1 Td, 2 Int, 11 att, 59 yrds, 1 Td
If not for his rushing yards and touchdowns, it was a complete nightmare game for Locker. His supporters could no longer hold on to the idea that he was Heisman-worthy. The tide finally shifted against Locker.
His supporters began to feel foolish for boasting so hard for him.
The rest of his senior year was up-and-down and filled with injuries. Locker did rise up and lead this team to four consecutive victories to finish out his career on a winning note against the same Nebraska team that killed his Heisman dream.
Locker unfortunately suffered the fate that many star players do when coming to a team desperately in need of a lift. Expectations were so inflated, Locker was destined to disappoint a significant proportion of the fanbase.
But, I contend that if not for the circumstances surrounding Jake, there would be little doubt about his place in Husky history.
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