"I'm very happy to be at Washington"

When thousands of fans coronate a teenage boy as the savior of a downtrodden football program, you get to wondering if we're putting too much pressure on these kids. But when a quarterback recruit comes along that possesses the whole package-- the arm strength, leg speed, intelligence, work ethic and that un-teachable quality of charisma, you can't help but feel buoyant with optimism.

Such is the case with Washington quarterback Jake Locker, and the thousands of long-suffering Husky fans who yearn for a brighter day. After red-shirting this past season, the young man dubbed as "Montlake Jake" now has a year of experience under his belt. With the season-opener at Syracuse a mere seven months away, Locker is working hard in order to compete with returning senior Carl Bonnell for the starting nod. Helping Locker in his development is UW Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano. And Locker practically gushes with admiration when asked of his mentor.

"Coach Lappano is one of the main reasons that I chose to come to the University of Washington," said Locker recently. "I'm very happy to be at Washington and it is largely because of him. He's really down-to-earth and a really good guy. He's the same way with me now as when they were recruiting me. Nothing has changed. It's not all just about football with him. We can go and talk about anything, and he will ask me about my family and how things are going. He has a lot of integrity and loyalty, and he's just a real good person. He's the type of person that I want to be someday."

When a subsequent question prompted Locker to describe the superior qualities needed in leadership, Locker alluded back to Lappano.

"A person's integrity is very important," said Locker. "Trust and loyalty are also important, when it comes to leadership and inspiring others. Once you've gained that with somebody, it's a treasured thing to have in this life."

During the 2006 season, Locker backed up quarterbacks Isaiah Stanback, Johnny DuRocher and Carl Bonnell, and absorbed subtleties from all three. In particular, the now-departed DuRocher really took Locker under his wing. "We watched film together a lot," said Locker. "He always made sure that I knew what I was doing. He was often pretty hard one me, which was good. But all three of them helped me. Isaiah helped especially on the field. I could watch him and see how to react to certain situations, just from watching his example."

Having Locker learn by Stanback's example, was partially the intention UW Coach Tyrone Willingham had in mind last September, when he elected to bring Locker along to Norman, Oklahoma. The Huskies were preparing to do battle on national TV with the mighty Sooners. Willingham, of course, had no intention of playing the freshman. But with the future in mind, Willingham just wanted Locker to be in the moment and soak it all in. And that game's initial moments were what made the most lasting impression upon the young man's psyche.

"When we first ran out onto the field, the whole stadium was booing us," said Locker. "There must have been 80-90,000 fans there. It was really eye-opening for me. It was all so loud, and all those fans really hated us. I thought that was cool, and it was good to experience that environment. That game was such a big deal to so many people."

The 2006 season initially crackled with electric optimism, after a quick 4-1 start. But as October turned to November, Locker looked on as his teammates wilted down the stretch—and finished with a 5-7 record.

Now, as the 2007 Spring Practice approaches, Locker is working hard to make an impact for the Huskies. He was asked what factors he would point to as evidence that Washington is better now than a year ago under third-year Coach Tyrone Willingham.

"Well, I wasn't here at this time a year ago," Locker said. "So I don't know how the winter workouts and passing drills and all that were going. But I'm excited about where we're at right now. It's a daily thing. We're trying to get better in all areas. Coach Willingham is very persistent in everything he does. He's a man of his word and follows through with whatever he says he is going to do. He's very passionate, but not everyone sees that, I think. But (the players) can all see it. I'm excited to see how we will do this year."

But what of the pressure of expectations—especially when the likes of KJR personality Dave "Softy" Mahler pressures you to publicly guarantee four consecutive national championships? Locker burst out laughing, when reminded of that light moment from last November's on-air interview.

"That was a good moment!" said Locker. "Some people gave me a hard time over it, but it was all in good fun."
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnson1@verizon.net

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