Locker already has the answers

SEATTLE - Back in the days before Commodore 64's, Pong and Intellivision, Jake Locker would have to have been satisfied merely recreating his pigskin dreams in the backyard, or on the football field at Ferndale High. But we're talking 2008, and the redshirt frosh from Washington has not only dreamed about the future - he's played in it.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound quarterback is living his dreams out at the University of Washington, where he has helped guide the Huskies to their first 2-0 start in six years. But in the virtual world of NCAA Football 08 - a video game anyone can play on an Xbox 360, Wii, Playstation 3 or personal computer - Locker has gone well past Boise State.

In fact, he's already played Ohio State. "We're undefeated, so it's going well," Locker said Monday with a laugh, adding that he's played about 4-5 games so far in the season, and couldn't remember the final score of the game he played against the Buckeyes.

But in Locker's world, that's about par for the course. Scoreboard isn't important, as long as the guys with the W on their helmets have more points than the other guys. "There's a lot of excitement around the program right now, and I think it would just continue the positive attitude here," he said when asked what would happen if the Huskies came away victorious when the real game is played on Saturday. "I think that we're headed in the right direction and we just have to go out and play well this Saturday."

The Jake Locker era at UW is only in its week, but for anyone that's seen him play the whole deal just has the feel of predestination to it. But he admitted Monday that his family - which includes fathers and uncles that all played at Western Washington - never rooted for a college team.

"It was never a huge deal growing up," he said. How things have changed. When he committed to Washington from Ferndale, it appeared to be the perfect match of timing, logistics, trust and tradition - all wrapped up in a bow of purple and gold.

"It was the coaching staff, their attitude, how comfortable I was with them, and how much I could trust them," he said, when asked why he picked UW. "Obviously the location is close to home. I have a lot of family in the area, so playing in front of them was important to me. And just the tradition in which this university is held. They are one of the top-25 schools in all of college football, and it's something I wanted to be a part of."

"That was one of the major steps," Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said Monday about getting Locker to buy into his vision of Washington football. "And quarterbacks can have such a major impact on programs. And if you can find the right one, the impact is unbelievable. So when you have a young man that is in-state, and has the talent we believe he has, you really want to make sure you start with him and we were fortunate to get his commitment and to get him into the program."

Though everything appeared idyllic during Jake's first year at Washington, he was struggling with not seeing the field. He wanted to play, but ultimately the trust he put in the coaches won out, and it's a decision he hasn't regretted once. "That year was really big for me," he said about his redshirt campaign. "I was able to sit back and get comfortable with the game speed, being on the sidelines for every game. I got comfortable with the travel routine. I was fortunate enough to travel with the team each week. I learned a lot of things that helped me adjust to the game coming from high school into college. At the time it was hard. You always want to be out there on the field. But looking back on it, it was the best thing for me and I'm glad I got that opportunity to sit out and watch last year."

Then things really came into bloom this past spring when Willingham came out and named Locker his starter. It was finally game on for Montlake Jake, and he's been living under the microscope ever since. Unfortunately, life is not like NCAA 08 when it comes to weekly interviews, so the coaches are trying to help him deal with the glare of the media spotlight. "If his expectations are higher than those around him, then he's only dealing with himself," Willingham said about the hype surrounding Locker and how he has chosen to deal with it. "And I think he's capable of doing that. The important thing is that - as a staff - we are aware of all the things and how they impact his performance on the field and off the field, and if we can balance all those things, I think we'll be in good shape."

"I don't pay attention to what the whole world is telling me," Locker added. "I know that I have 10 other guys on the field with me every snap and they are all very gifted athletes and very talented. My job is to get the ball in their hands and let them make the plays for us."

But Jake knows that he's the preverbial straw that stirs the drink. It's been obvious through his first two starts that the offense goes when he's going well. And it didn't go that well in the final half against Boise State, despite racking up an impressive 24 points the half before. "We had to handle a little adversity - a couple of turnovers from me personally - and we had to come back from that," he said. "So I have full faith in this team that if there's a point in a game where we go down, no one is going to go in the tank. We're going to rise up to the challenge and hopefully get a victory.

"I think I tried to make too many plays on Saturday. I forced the ball into some spots where it didn't fit. And that was something that (UW Quarterbacks) coach (Tim Lappano) told me to try and avoid all fall camp and last year. So those are things I need to take care of and just tuck it down and take what I can get at that point."

Taking what's given is an art no quarterback masters right away, and for a playmaker like Locker - who is always looking to go that extra yard for his team - holding back and making the cautious play is anathema to Locker's warrior-like mentality. He's always looking forward, not side-to-side.

So when mistakes are made, it's been even more impressive to see him bounce forward. Bouncing forward is a great concept, and I wish I could take credit for it, but Lappano used it first when talking about Locker. And it's so true. After fumbling the ball away like a loaf of bread in the first quarter against Boise State, he helped lead his team back for 10 more points the next two possessions.

That short-term memory Locker possesses is not something given to him at birth. Unlike his God-given physical parts, 'bouncing forward' is something he credits his father Scott for instilling in him early in life. He certainly didn't learn it playing a video game.

"When I was younger, I got pretty upset when I made mistakes doing things," he said. "And my Dad always told me that there was nothing that I could do about it. It already happened, I couldn't fix it, so there's no point in complaining about it or being upset about it. You just have to move on and go out and do the best you can the next time you get an opportunity. My Dad was always telling me that, and I got used to it over the years. It makes a lot of sense."

So while NCAA 08 gives Locker a way to satiate the voyeuristic tendencies that all fans of sport share, there's nothing like the viceral reaction to having 70,000 fans screaming after he scores from six yards out. Or sees students in his own class wearing No. 10 jerseys while wandering around Red Square. You sure can't duplicate that on an Xbox or Wii, no matter how life-like they've become.

"It was neat to have the community behind us like that," he said. "It got pretty loud. Once we started playing, it was just what was happening out there. But on the sidelines, you definitely notice it."

And he'll notice it this Saturday when Ohio State comes to town. "Coming to a school like this you're always going to play some national powerhouses. And it's exciting when you can have teams like Ohio State come in and play you on your home field."

He tried to get them to play on his television in his dorm, but they didn't fit. So Husky Stadium will have to do.

"We have confidence within ourselves," Locker said. "There's the age-old quote that says, 'It's not about the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog', and that's something can be put into any situation."

But can it be put into a Playstation?

I wouldn't put it past Jake Locker to figure it out. Top Stories