The most surprising thing was that Jake Locker was not carrying an axe.
No lumberjack’s shirt. No blue ox named Babe.
Despite the mythical proportions that have been draped upon the Locker name since he turned down millions of dollars and decided to return to UW for his senior season, Locker is still the same 6-foot-3, 226-pound guy he’s always been.
“He’s regular old Jake to me,” junior running back Johri Fogerson said Tuesday, after the Huskies wrapped up the first of their 15 spring practices. “Just a regular, laid-back guy who’s fun to hang out with. He’s a lovable guy, and he takes care of us.”
The Ferndale native with the aw-shucks personality hasn’t changed, even though Locker could have been spending this week working out for, say, the St. Louis Rams instead of with his UW teammates. After taking his name out of consideration for the upcoming NFL draft in December — some projections had him as the No. 1 overall pick — Locker was just happy to be back doing what he loves Tuesday.
“I was really excited,” he said. “Just the atmosphere, the intensity and the overall enjoyment that you have when you’re out here is something that you miss when you’re not.
“It was great to get back out here with the guys and get yelled at and coached and play a little football.”
Locker admitted that he’s been watching some of the recent draft hype, but added that he’s more interested in the prospects of former teammates like Donald Butler and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim than he is in imagining where his own name might have fit.
Since pulling his name out of the draft, and probably delaying a multi-million-dollar paycheck in the process, Locker hasn’t looked back on his decision. If anything, he seems eager to stop talking about the NFL so that he can focus on his final season of college football.
“I think he was anxious to get out here and to see (that) all the mental work he’s put in, what was going to come back out of it,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said after Tuesday’s practice, “and I thought he had a really nice day today.”
For now, Locker’s decision may have taken him out of the spotlight of guys like Mel Kiper Jr., but his return to UW has only created a wealth of expectations for his senior year of college. The school’s marketing department has already started putting together a Heisman campaign, and Locker is likely to become one of the most sought-after interviews by national media over the next nine months.
Sarkisian said that kind of attention is just fine with him.
“He’s such a mature guy, I don’t want him to shield him from that,” the coach said Tuesday. “I don’t want to baby him. I just want him to approach it the right way, and remain humble, which he is, (and) really be a pro about it.
“Inevitably, a year from today, he’s going to be getting ready for the NFL draft, and all of the expectations, and the hype and the media then. So we might as well get him prepared for it.”
Until then, Locker will remain the same guy teammates remember. They weren’t sure whether he’d be back this year, but the Huskies are glad to have him.
“You never know with Jake,” wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said. “He’s a weird kid. I just had that feeling (he would return). I knew that there were some things that he wanted to accomplish in his college career. I’m glad he came back.”
“Weird” is not an adjective often applied to the choir-boy quarterback from Ferndale. But there’s certainly a side of Locker that not all fans get to see.
Just ask Butler, a senior linebacker from the 2009 team who hopes to get drafted later this month. When asked in November about his favorite memory of the Locker era, Butler pointed toward a visit to Locker’s parents’ home in Ferndale, where the two of them spent most of their free time wrestling in the living room.
Paul Bunyan? Maybe not so much.
Jake Locker is just another college kid who can be, just like the rest of them, a bit “weird” at times.
“He sings country all the time,” Kearse said when asked why the adjective fits Locker. “He’s goofy. You need to see him around. He’s a goofy kid. But he’s a good guy.”
And quite a player, by all accounts. The Huskies are just hoping Locker lives up to the hype.
“It makes me want to step my game up,” Kearse said. “Jake’s a great quarterback, and I’m happy to be one of the people he throws to.
“He definitely helps me out and helps this team out. He brings so much to the team. He’s a great asset.”
One of the players added to the UW football roster is freshman defensive end Clarence Trent, who was a reserve on the Huskies’ basketball team. The 6-foot-5 Trent has not played football since his freshman year of high school. “I think he’s the right type of body type, he’s the right type of athlete at the defensive end spot that we’re looking for: a long-rangy, athletic guy,” Sarkisian said. “He hasn’t played football in five years, so there’s a lot of work to be done.” … Quarterback Nick Montana, linebacker Victor Burnett and running backs Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier were the early-entry freshmen who participated in Tuesday’s practice. Cooper enrolled at UW in January, while the other three started classes Monday. … Sophomore safety Nate Fellner got kicked out of Tuesday’s practice after getting into a scuffle with a teammate. “We had an incident there at the end and it would have been a 15-yard, personal-foul penalty,” Sarkisian said, “and that’s not OK. We’ll learn. You get ejected from practice when you take one of those.” … Running back Chris Polk (shoulder) and starting tackle Cody Habben (shoulder) were among the players who did not participate in Tuesday’s practice. They’ll probably sit out the entire spring.
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