Washington Gets Jake Locker Big Finish
Locker and the Huskies are headed to a bowl game.
"It's really cool just to be able to be in there and have them explain this kind of stuff and look up at a schedule that in the past has been 'OK, this is when you guys can go home and this is when the quarter starts and we start winter workouts again,'" Locker said Sunday. "To be able to look at it and go, 'We are going to have practices here, these days are going to be off, you'll get money for this, we are going to visit these places while we are down there,' it just puts a smile on my face."
Washington (6-6) rallied to win three straight games and earn the program's first bowl berth since 2002. The Huskies faced down three straight elimination games and came away each time with a win they had to have.
They ended up with a third-place finish in the Pac-10 with USC, tied at 5-4. Now they are headed for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego and a rematch with Nebraska, which came to Seattle on Sept. 18 and dominated Washington 56-21. Nebraska finished the season 10-3.
But the Huskies are the ones with something truly momentous to celebrate. Two years ago on Monday, Steve Sarkisian met his team for the first time. They were coming off an Apple Cup loss and an 0-12 season, the program's first winless record in 119 years. At 6-6, Washington is not yet a winning football program. It is, in reality, only one win better than Sarkisian's first season last year. But the Huskies have come a long way. Certainly a long way from the 3-6 hole Washington was looking at in mid-November.
Now the Washington seniors get the send-off they hoped for.
"This is a special time for the seniors," Sarkisian said. "This time around, in the same locker room two years later, they've won the Apple Cup, they finished third in the Pac-10. I'm thankful to them. When you are rebuilding a team, you need leadership. You need guys who believe in your philosophy and what you are trying to do and those guys did it."
Locker said he and his teammates are enjoying the unfamiliar.
"It's where we've always wanted to be and we've never been able to find a way to get there and now that we are, it's a bunch of guys really excited to be in this situation," Locker said.
A postseason berth is a breakthrough for the Washington program. But it is not a relief, the coach said. Instead, it is "another step in the right direction."
"It's not a relief at all," Sarkisian said. "There have been a lot of things accomplished here in two years, whether it's road wins to wins in L.A. to Pac-10 wins to breaking streaks. This is another one of those milestones that tells us we are headed in the right direction.
"It is what you want, a game that is motivating for your players and fans. I think we have to play to our strengths and understand where we were exploited and try to fix those issues."
Locker was 4 of 20 in the Nebraska game in September. It was his worst game as a college quarterback. His final season has been a roller-coaster. He struggled. He was injured. He fell off the map in the Heisman race and lost ground in terms of NFL Draft status. He finished the regular season seventh in passing average at 200.8 yards a game, seventh in pass efficiency and total offense. All three numbers are down from his junior season.
But the book is not yet complete on Locker's college career. He would love to come up with happy ending against the Huskers.
"Anybody who plays sports and is competitive, any time you have the opportunity to go out and improve on a performance or a game that you didn't do your best in individually and as a group it's always a good opportunity," Locker said. "It's something that all competitors hope for."
The extra practice time will allow the Washington staff to work with young players. The trip to southern California will be a chance to make a great impression with recruits in that part of the world.
Locker said he does not believe the Huskies will just be happy to be there.
"It's not a game that we are going to go down and enjoy everything and don't care if we win or lose," Locker said. "We've got one more game on our schedule now and we are going to do everything in our power to win that football game."