Jake Locker was a rock star before he ever arrived on campus.
The Savior. Saint Locker. The great white hope. Whatever you chose to call him, Jake Locker was who you pinned all of your hopes and dreams on as a Husky fan.
Before even taking a snap with a gold football helmet on, Jake Locker was tasked with reviving a once great program with nothing more than super glue and a band-aid’s worth of resources around him.
The task that the hoards of Husky faithful, media and hell, even the Willingham coaching staff, asked of him was simple: If you could go ahead and single-handedly revive the perception of Washington as at least a semi-elite college football program that would be great. Yeah. And while you’re at it, don’t forget the cover sheets on your TPS reports.
Maybe Jake didn’t get the memo. All Jake had to do was win a few conference championships, maybe become a Heisman finalist. And maybe beat Oregon a few times. Completely realistic, right?
If that’s the barometer by which you measure Jake Locker, then he never lived up to expectations. Maybe you feel that he was a detriment to the program.
The disappointing statistics, career losing record and the fact that his talent never fully came to fruition at Washington could all support that case.
But if what matters to you is that, in the end, Jake Locker did everything he could to make the Washington football program better; That he gave the program a face that it lacked all decade; That before he left that he put the program in a position to move forward with popularity, with prestige, with a legacy, then Jake Locker ended his career as a Husky a success.
I admit, it was extremely frustrating during the five year stretch Locker was a Husky to watch this all come to fruition. All of this for one bowl win? All of this to glorify a seven-win season? Isn’t this why Lambright was fired in the first place?
But let’s be real here. What did Locker have to work with under Willingham? Nothing much, just fringe NFL prospects at the skill positions and a historically bad defense. By the time Willingham was able to get Washington into a position to keep elite home talent actually home and bring in players that could help consistently win football games it was too late.
Locker was working with Jermaine Kearse, Chris Polk and Devin Aguilar when they were true freshman being thrown into the fire.
And then Willingham got canned. 0-12. Whoop. Gone.
Enter Coach Sark. Enter a complete 180 in philosophy for Jake Locker. A career Wing-T/Spread run option quarterback was now being asked to, as a fourth year collegiate player, learn and master a pro style offense. The new playbook might as well have been written in Chinese.
But what would a year on Montlake be for Locker if there wasn’t adversity. Right?
And at first, Locker was great. The Huskies started off 2-1, defeating USC, and even cracking the top 25. They finished the year an optimistic 5-7, Locker shined and his NFL draft stock increased tenfold. But with rising success comes rising expectations, and ultimately more adversity.
4-20 is to getting high as Jake Locker is to derailing his NFL stock. That was his passing line against Nebraska, which turned him from a Heisman favorite and first overall pick into a mediocre quarterback with a second round grade. The dawgs got thrashed and from there it was even more of an uphill battle for Locker.
He continued to take it all in stride and work harder for the Washington program.
Still, it went back to Locker essentially being a Sophomore in the offense Sarkisian was running. The playbook was a lot more open than it was Locker’s first season under Sarkisian, and the progression takes more than even two seasons to master. Even now, as Locker moves forward with his NFL career, he is a very unfinished product.
Again, you can chastise the numbers, criticize the record, lament the decision making. But Locker always seemed to have to battle his way with his back against the wall. But her never wavered, he never gave partial effort. He was continuing to be the type of player that team mates could rally around, and that you could launch a program around.
Soon, it paid off.
Locker finished his college career on a four game winning streak, winning his last three regular season games, and making Washington victorious in a bowl for the first time in a decade.
At the culmination of it all, the path traveled made sense. Rhyme and reason existed. With six words from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, it made sense.
The Tennessee Titans select….Jake Locker.
Two years prior, all of this seemed extremely unlikely. But what in hindsight makes sense is that the program taking a step back under Tyrone Willingham could be considered a silver lining. Could another coach come in and handled the situation better?
Sure, but the program needed to go back to square one. It needed to repair it’s image, and that’s what Willingham did. The only thing we can do is look at where the program is today and be appreciative, it could be worse, and it would’ve been worse had it not been for Jake Locker.
By the time Steve Sarkisian got ahold of the Huskies, and more specifically Jake Locker, the Huskies were in a position to reclaim their identity. To go back to the way things were the Huskies had to be clean, and they needed a face.
Jake Locker gave them that, and because of it, Sarkisian was able to take us and run. Sark is still running with it. Shortly after Locker was drafted, Mercer Island QB prospect Jeff Lundquist chose UW over Stanford and Washington State.
Back in December when Locker was able to lay his hand on the Holiday Bowl trophy it told kids all along the west coast that these weren’t the Huskies you’ve been watching since pee wee football. Things are changed in Montlake.
Now, when Jake Locker stood in front of those ESPN cameras in Ferndale, wearing a Tennessee Titans T-Shirt, it signaled a change in the culture of Husky football. Prospective college athletes from all around the country were watching that too.
If that doesn’t cement a successful Jake Locker legacy for the University of Washington football program, I don’t know what could.