Locker survives, thrives in 'Car Wash'

Joey Harrington, eat your heart out. Back in 2001, Washington fans chastised their southerly neighbors for pushing a 10-story billboard of the Oregon QB as they pushed Harrington's Heisman campaign to Times Square, right in the heart of the Big Apple. Why would Oregon care about what people in New York thought, and more importantly - why was it even relevant?

Well, UW fans found out Monday what the Ducks knew nearly a decade ago as their quarterback - Jake Locker - became the Huskies' living billboard back east as he was put through an eight-hour 'car wash' at ESPN Headquarters in Bristol, Conn. The term 'car wash' is apparently how ESPN describes the onslaught that takes place when athletes roll through their campus on a media junket.

For example, Locker started his day getting interviewed during ESPN's opening-day programming - aptly called 'First Take', and he didn't stop until he finished taping some segments for SportsCenter, ESPN's award-winning feature show. And if you didn't get enough Jake, you could always track Locker's every step of his east coast swing via the AD's official Twitter feed.

It may be considered a 'car wash', but it sounded more like ESPN's version of the two-minute drill, and Locker pulled it all off masterfully - his disarming nature and ah shucks personality came shining through on the biggest screen in America. The Ferndale native - dressed down in his UW black polo shirt, Levis and cowboy boots - endeared himself to millions of viewers on the east coast that probably didn't know much about him. He was unfazed and unflappable, except for those brief moments where he tripped over a tongue-twister or two, coming off as honest, humble and sincere. In other words, it was just Jake being Jake.

Mission accomplished.

Until Monday, all most football fans knew of Locker was that Mel Kiper, Jr. has him as the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, but they probably had no idea why. Locker put a face on his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame. And he didn't just make his presence known TV while at ESPN; he also took part in online chats, sat down for interviews with writers, and also joined ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt on his radio show. For at least one day in June, it was all Jake Locker, all the time.

And while Jake was carrying the water for his Heisman campaign - the first campaign for a UW player since Napoleon Kaufman's run in 1994 - he was also doing his share of the heavy lifting for the Huskies' beleaguered program, one that appears set to fully emerge from the ashes of the 0-12 team driven into the ground by Tyrone Willingham two years ago.

Clips of the Huskies' 16-13 win over USC were embedded in every video package that was shown when ESPN talked about Locker or to Locker. It was more than just a little ironic that USC - typically the west coast program that holds the torch for football on the east coast-based ESPN - was getting blasted by the College Football Live crew for appealing their recent sanctions, while Locker and the Huskies were treated as the new darlings.

As someone who has watched Washington football since 1975, I never in a million years would have envisioned an ESPN segment featuring TWO Washington quarterbacks - Locker and former UW great Brock Huard - at the same time, let alone stingers featuring famed Husky play-by-play man Bob Rondeau. It was all a bit surreal sitting at home in Seattle watching, so I can't imagine what it must have felt like for Locker as he was actually going through it.

And give Andre Ware and Huard credit for not pulling any punches during their segment with Locker on College Football Live; they showed the things Locker did wrong early in his UW career, as well as what he has improved on under the tutelage of Steve Sarkisian and Doug Nussmeier. They put his game under the microscope, and Locker didn't flinch. Considering it just more mental preparation as Locker gets set to lead the Huskies this fall.

Ware - who said he's correctly picked five out of the last six Heisman Trophy winners - asked Locker why he should pay attention to him this season. "I think that I have an understanding and a command of the offense that maybe I haven't had in the past," Locker said. "I feel comfortable with that as my role."

And as he's shown over the past three seasons, one of Jake's best traits is his ability to improvise. Based on his appearance Monday in Bristol, it's hard not to give him high marks for thinking fast on his feet and checking down to what the announcers gave him. Dealing with the media is not a role Locker embraces, but he understands it's all part of repairing the Huskies' image as a legitimate player on the national stage. When you saw his easy-going style and affable demeanor, it's not surprising ESPN gravitated to him much like they made a meal out of Tim Tebow during his career at Florida.

What Locker did Monday was simply create the foundation for what might lay ahead this fall. With ESPN and ABC games coming up against Nebraska, USC and UCLA, Washington has a chance to show the country that they are back. And wins over the 'Huskers, Trojans and Bruins could go a long way toward putting Locker right in the driver's seat when it comes to the Heisman race.

What happened on Monday was nothing more than window dressing, a purple and gold overload. But it was a hell of a lot of fun to watch, and definitely added intrigue to those UW games that will be shown on a national stage. Top Stories