Washington's Jake Locker Looking Forward to a Grand Finale
What he lacks in the win-loss column, he more than makes up for in physical gifts: size, strength, foot speed and a big arm. All that's missing from a profile that will almost assuredly make him a top pick in the NFL Draft next spring is wins.
FanHouse caught up with Locker in Seattle last week to talk about hype, expectations, his decision to return to Washington for a fifth season and the very real possibility that he could lead the Huskies to their first winning season since 2002. Coach Steve Sarkisian's thoughts are in a separate story.
Q: You are staying in Seattle to focus on football this summer. Can you talk about that decision?
A: Football has always been my first love, ever since I've played tackle football. It's always had a special place in my heart, so, I knew that as far as my football career went, this was probably the most important summer of my life. I wanted to make sure that going into this season, I was prepared as possible and that I knew I had done everything I could do to give myself the best opportunity to succeed.
Q: What are you doing with this time?
A: I'm working out, spending time, just trying to be around the team. Throwing as much as we can. Just getting comfortable with each other. I think we are hoping to do some more team activities off the field, build some team chemistry.
Q: What parts of your own game are you working on?
A: You know, the little things that make such a big difference in the passing game. Footwork, rhythm, being comfortable, taking the right drops and being in the right points in the progression at the right time. And then knowing the offense, studying film, understanding where maybe I had troubles last year and addressing that in our throwing sessions and in our extra work.
Q: Does preparing for this season feel different than other seasons?
A: No. It's the same feeling. You are preparing to win. You are preparing to have the most success as possible. But knowing that it's my last one going into it, it does have a little bit of a different feeling. And also with wanting to achieve the things you came here to achieve, maybe there's a little sense that this is the last chance for that.
Q: You made such a big improvement as a team last year and people will look at you now and expect more from you. Does that add anything to these summer workouts?
A: The most important part for our team is understanding that we aren't a team that's going to surprise people anymore. We were able to be successful last year and play a lot of close games and could have been in a a lot different position if we could have pulled a couple of games out at the end. So understanding that we aren't going to be able to go into a game like we did last year and surprise people, and understand that you have to work that much harder when you are a team that people recognize on their schedule.
Q: How gratifying is it to taste some success after the program has struggled?
A: We had a couple of big wins last year in the USC game and being able to finish the season like we did against Washington State and Cal. Those are things that the previous three years I'd been here, we hadn't been able to accomplish. We'd never put an exclamation point on the end of our season like that. We always finished mediocre. To win a big game like USC on a national stage was a first for us as well. So I think that going through that experience was something that the guys, including myself, really enjoyed. You can't deny that it's a lot of fun to go through something like that. I think you do get a taste of it and want to repeat it every weekend.
Q: The strong finish from last year, how much of that was a slingshot now into your decision to come back?
A: I think it was a preview into what we could do, the potential that this team had when we were playing together as one unit. I felt like everybody was comfortable those last two games with what we were doing offensively and defensively and they were all buying into the same program. Nobody was into their own agenda, we were all working together for one common goal and that was really cool to see. It was a huge part of my decision because of the possibilities it opened our eyes to.
Q: People didn't know you would decide to stay when you did. It was early in the process. Can you talk about the timing of your decision and how you got there?
A: I think a lot of people were surprised by it because I had turned in one of those forms to get evaluated by the NFL and I made my decision before I'd received the results. And for me, originally it was something that I considered because of the potential of where I could have gone in the draft, or what people had said. It was something that I felt like was worth for me and my family to look at and weigh the options.
And then I really sat down and talked to my parents about it, I talked to my family and the people that are close to me and I came back that next Monday and I had a great idea of what I wanted to do. It wasn't about the money for me, or any of those sorts of things.
I was about the memories I thought I might miss out on if I left a year early. I'm thrilled to be able to have the opportunity to play in the NFL at some point, but I understood that there were some things that I could work on to better prepare myself to take that step to the next level. And also, I didn't want to regret missing out on what could be this year ... having the opportunity to go to a bowl game, and experience some of those things that we haven't experienced yet as a football team. And that was important to me and ultimately why I chose to come back.
Q: Who did you go to for advice and what kind of advice were they giving you?
A: I talked to my coaches and they told me early on in the process, 'Whatever information you want, we will provide for you. We'll try and stay as unbiased as possible. We want what's best for you and your family and we'll support you in any decision you make.' Which was really nice and I felt like they did put me in contact with the right people and people that didn't try to sway me one way or the other, but you just tried to explain their experience, gave me facts that were able to lead me to make the most educated decision. And then I was able to spend time with my mom and dad and I have a great relationship with them. I talked them, bounced ideas off of them ... my girlfriend, and close friends.
People that I really, really trust in my life, I knew that I would get straight answers from them and I knew that they knew me and would be able to remind me of the things that are important to me. So that's the way that I was able to come about my decision and when I was able to do it.
Q: You don't sound like you were looking for people to sell you one way or the other?
A: No. It wasn't a competition to see who I could get more from. I looked at it at one point and said, 'Twenty or 30 years from now when this is all over, I'm done playing, hopefully I'll have a family and I'm hanging out ... what decision am I going to wish I made? Which one would I not regret?' And I have no doubt now this is the decision that I wouldn't regret. Because I know I'm going to be able to see it through now. No matter what happens, I was able to be a part of it, good or bad. I won't regret that.
Q: How close are you to graduation?
A: After the fall, I will graduate with a history degree.
Q: As soon as you announced you were coming back, the phrase "Heisman campaign" started being used. How do you react to that?
A: It's an honor. It's something that when you're a kid, you always see those guys and you think it would be cool to be that guy. But now, being in this position, you understand that those guys were put in that position because of the team they have around them. The opportunity that their team gives them. Any of the guys that have won it haven't done it by themselves. As soon as you start focusing on yourself and what you need to do to get it, that's when you don't receive that award. The most important thing to do going into any season, for anybody, whether you are a Heisman candidate or not, is to focus on 'What can I do to make this team better?'
When you are able to do that and win games, that will take care of itself. I can't remember the last time a player on a losing team won the award. As long as you keep your focus on the team and winning games -- that's what you're here for -- all that other stuff takes care of itself and you don't have to worry about it.
Q: Do you wear expectations comfortably?
A: I know people have them and people have put them on me, but they don't affect me. I have expectations for myself, I have goals for myself. I believe I set really high goals for myself and those are what I strive to achieve. I don't want to achieve goals for anybody else but myself. People can say whatever they want and it's not really going to affect me.
Q: Where do you feel like your responsibilities are for this team this season?
A: I'm here with them. As a fifth-year senior going into my last season, I've gone through a lot of things here. Just being able to educate some of the younger guys maybe, and some of the guys who are the same age. Whatever. Just making sure they know you are here for them, trying to help them out, things on and off the field and I know I'm going to be accountable to them. Not only in football, but anything they need.
Q: Are you comfortable as a leader?
A: I've never been a real vocal guy or outspoken. Not a motivational speech kind of guy. My dad always told me, from when I was really young, that the best leaders just go out and do the right thing all the time and work as hard as they can and people will notice that. When you're good, you don't have to talk about yourself, people will talk about you.
That's kind of what I've tried to live by and mold myself around. Make sure that you are doing the right things, so that when you do have a chance to speak up, you have a platform to speak from and a body of work that supports what you are saying and that's always been my goal as a leader.
Q: This program got better, but it's been 2002 since the last winning season. What has to change for you guys to break that barrier?
A: We have to be comfortable being in the spotlight and winning football games. We have to understand that that is where this program is headed and, to be successful, you have to win when you are expected to. You are not always going to be able to sneak up on teams. Eventually, we want to be that team that when somebody comes in and pulls out a game like we did against USC last year, that it's a huge upset. That's the position you want to be in, that if you lose a game, it's a huge deal because you are that good and people think that highly of your program.
Q: It seems like this whole campus is hungry for a winning football program. How much of a sense of that do you get day to day?
A: We have a great support system in Seattle. People really love Husky football. We haven't had a winning seasons in seven years and we're still have one of the top attendance numbers in the Pac-10. The easier we make it for them to be able to come cheer on Saturdays, it will go back to being the toughest place to play in the Pac-10, and maybe in the country. Especially, the generation of kids here now were really young when Washington was really good. But they understand the tradition that this program stands for. I think they see the opportunity to get back to that standard and there is a sense of excitement and anticipation.
Q: In your quieter moments right now, are you looking ahead, thinking about next season?
A: I'm going through the process that's going to be ahead, but it's also a time to get away from it all and relax and have fun and get away from it. As much as I love the game, a lot of people will tell you it's important to get away from it. It allows you to come back maybe a little more fresh and sharp when you do return to your workouts and your film study.
Q: Where does baseball and your contract with the Angels fit into the picture right now?
A: It was an opportunity they approached me with this time last year after they drafted me. They drafted me out of high school and I told them that I wanted to play football and I didn't sign with them. So they approached me last summer and said, 'We understand that you want to play football and we're OK with that. What if we draft you and you sign with us and we hold your rights, so if you did decide to play, you'd play for us?' I thought it sounded like a pretty good deal. So we went through with it under the agreement that football was still what I wanted to do and the direction I want to go with my life. If I could make it down and run around with them I would. And I did, before spring ball. After spring, I actually had a little cleanup -- a couple of pins taken out of my thumb again -- so I wasn't able to do it after. I told them that summertime, I was going to be here, getting ready for the season.
It's been a good agreement. For five more years now, they hold the rights, so if I chose to play, I'd play for them.
Q: Your thumb is good, you're healthy? 100 percent?
A: Yeah, it's good. I can do everything. They had to just take a couple of pins out that I don't need.
Q: What is your relationship like with coach Sarkisian?
A: He's a great guy, on and off the field. I feel really comfortable not only going in to talk to him about football stuff, but about everyday questions or situations. He's very approachable and easy to have a conversation with. I really enjoy having him around.
I think the learning process of trying to grasp a new offense sped up that process of getting to know one another. You spend so much time with him. It made it a lot easier throughout the course of the season. He was able to have a better idea of who I am as a player and the things that I need throughout the course of a game to keep me going.
I thought, as the games went on through the course of the year last year, we got better and better at that. I got more comfortable going to the coaches and saying 'Hey, this is what I'm seeing' and 'What can we do to be a little more successful?' Having those conversations, that dialogue within the course of a game, being able to bounce things off him. Just being able to have that relationship, where you could throw ideas out there, was productive and helpful for me.
Q: People say you are very grounded and have a good sense of yourself. Do you feel like you do?
A: To me, football is a game and I love playing it. I've enjoyed playing since I could walk. That's what it is to me. As soon as you try to make it more, it takes the fun out of it. If it's not fun, you shouldn't play. That's how I view it. It's not something I have to do. It's not a job for me. It's something I get to do. It's an opportunity and a privilege that not a lot of people get and I'm fortunate enough to have. When you are able to enjoy the process and everything that comes along with it, it's fun. People see that.
As far as dealing with pressure and hype, I was really blessed to grow up in a family that always stressed that the person you are and the things you do off the field are the things that should define you. Who you are is more important than the player you are when you step on the field on Saturday. I remember getting in the car after a game and my mom and dad would talk about the game for a little bit, but if I showboated or something, my dad would say, 'That's something you never do.'
Having respect for myself and the game and the people that are in and around it, that came from my home. I was very fortunate to constantly be reminded of that, and I'm still reminded of that.
Q: Being from a small town like Ferndale (Wash.), do you feel like you have a whole community standing behind you?
A: Definitely. Every time I go home, it's great to see everybody. It's a small town and you knew everybody whether you were in class with them, or played baseball with them or went to church with them on Sunday. You are comfortable with each other. I guess that's something that helps me as well, to understand that I do have the support of all of those people and they are willing to back me up. There is a responsibility that comes with that. You have to uphold the integrity of not only yourself, but them. I don't want to make anybody else look bad when they are sticking up for you.