SEATTLE — As one of the fifth-year seniors who have seen Jake Locker grow from a freshman phenom into one of the nation’s top senior prospects, University of Washington teammate Cameron Elisara has certainly seen the Locker legend swell over the years.
It’s even been noticeable away from the football field, like in the classrooms of the UW campus.
“I’ve had some classes with him where they do roll call, and when they say, ‘Jake Locker,’ you hear whispers and see people looking around,” Elisara said from the Huskies’ training camp last week.
After the offseason that Locker has had, people might start giving out standing ovations come this fall.
UW’s most recognizable athlete is back on campus, but the majority of the student body is still more than a month away from joining him. With countless appearances on ESPN, his well-publicized decision to put off a multi-million-dollar NFL contract and a spot on nearly every list of candidates for the Heisman Trophy, Locker has become somewhat of a national celebrity over the past few months.
If Locker already had the title of big-man-on-the-UW-campus, things could rise to an even bigger level in late September.
“I don’t know really what to expect,” Locker said when asked what it might be like to walk among his fellow students in the fall. “I think I only have one class on campus next year anyway, so I probably won’t be up there much. We’ll see. We’ll see how it goes.”
Locker’s media blitz — last month, he took two separate trips to the East Coast to do the interview rounds on several ESPN shows — has made his face a recognizable one in college football circles across the country.
But, as Elisara can verify, Locker has been a pretty big commodity at UW for years.
That was when he was a young, emerging star who still hadn’t been part of a winning team. Now, Locker is not only seen as a Heisman candidate but also the possible No. 1 draft pick in the 2011 draft and — if all goes according to UW’s plan — he might finally get a winning season and bowl game under his belt.
It all adds up to an even bigger celebrity than the one that has followed Locker in his hometown of Ferndale and on the UW campus in recent years.
“It’s interesting watching the way people look at him,” said Gregory Christine, a senior offensive lineman for the Huskies. “To me, he’s just Jake. But to the fans, he’s Jake Locker. It’s definitely fun to watch. You sit back, and you’re like, ‘Jake, you’re the man.”
Anyone who expects the spike in popularity to go to Locker’s head doesn’t know Jake Locker.
“Whenever I’m around him or anyone else is around him, he’s just another one of the guys,” senior safety Nate Williams said. “He’s not this idol that all these people view him as. We can joke around with him, make jokes about him.
“He’s really humble, and that’s one of the things I really admire about him. He could walk around all cocky, with his chest out, as much as he wants. But he’s really humble, and I admire that about him. He’s just another one of the guys to us.”
Locker might be just another one of the guys, but he’s the one everyone pays to see when the Huskies are playing. And he could be one of the most talked-about players on a national scale when the games begin.
“It’ll probably be pretty hectic,” Elisara said of the attention Locker could see in the coming months. “But knowing Jake, it won’t affect him at all. He’s a real humble guy. He handles it all really, really well. I’m pretty impressed, honestly.”
Locker seems to genuinely enjoy the media blitz, even if he’s not letting the attention go to his head.
“It’s been different,” he said on Friday night. “But I think good, just from the standpoint that I had the opportunity to do it, experience it, get comfortable with it. It’ll make it that much easier down the road.”
One person who is watching Locker’s media commitments with a close eye has been UW coach Steve Sarkisian, who plans to cut back on the quarterback’s off-the-field obligations as the season gets closer.
“We’re going to monitor it,” Sarkisian said. “We’re not going to have him on (ESPN’s) College Football Live every day of the week. He’s going to have his opportunities, and we’ll maximize those opportunities, but at the end of the day what matters is what he does on this (football) field.”
Still, the attention is likely to follow Locker — especially on the rare days that he walks the UW campus. His No. 10 jersey has become so recognizable around town that it doesn’t even need a name on the back. And when the Huskies hold their annual Picture Day this morning at Husky Stadium, Locker is likely to be the overwhelming favorite among autograph seekers.
Anonymity is no longer an option for the 22-year-old senior.
“Jake’s a great guy, so the people do notice him and want to talk to him,” Huskies receiver D’Andre Goodwin said. “He’ll always stop for a short conversation.”
The amount of people who want a piece of Locker’s time is only going to swell in the coming weeks and months. Montlake Jake could become an even bigger celebrity than he already is in these parts.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do on the field, it’ll just take off,” Christine said of the attention Locker could get this season. “The community has already embraced him, so it’ll be a good time; it’ll be fun.
“He’s a senior; I’m a senior. To be able to send out Jake the way he should be sent out would be my utmost honor.”
The Huskies completed their first two-a-day on Saturday, when they held sessions in the morning and at night. … Running back Chris Polk and safety Nate Williams continue to rest minor soreness, while defensive end Kalani Aldrich joined them on the sideline Saturday morning. … Sarkisian confirmed that defensive end Andru Pulu, who was indefinitely suspended following an incident in which he was arrested for assault in the spring, has since been dismissed from the team. … Kicker Erik Folk had a big morning practice, hitting a 54-yard field goal and nailing a 49-yarder to cap off a two-minute drill at the end of practice. … Today is Picture Day, which means the team won’t practice. Fans are invited to attend the session free of charge, beginning at 11:30 a.m.