Jake Locker has spent his time as a Washington Husky dodging hype like he would a Syracuse linebacker — that is to say, with uncommon ease and grace — but even for him, this was a little bit much.
When players were made available to the press on Monday to talk about Washington’s win over Boise State and Saturday’s showdown with No. 10 Ohio State, Locker was brought up to a table for the more formal press conference setup usually reserved for coach Tyrone Willingham.
School officials had previously avoided singling Locker out, instead having him do less formal interviews like the rest of the players. The high demand for Locker became too much, however, leading to the change.
“Yeah, this is a little bit different than last week,” Locker said walking up to the table, looking more rattled than he has so far on the field during his two-game-old career.
Speaking of those two games, it’s probably worth mentioning that somewhere amid all the Locker hoopla, a couple of football games were played, and the new kid has done all right.
Locker completed 14 of 19 passes for 142 yards and added 83 rushing yards in his opener against Syracuse. He was 13-for-25 for 193 yards and rushed for 84 more against Boise State. In the two games, he has one touchdown pass and one interception — both against Boise State — and three rushing touchdowns.
Locker has been nothing short of spectacular running the ball, whether it is dodging a would-be tackler to break a big run, or running one (or three) over to find the end zone. His passing game has been less consistent, but he has shown undeniable talent.
And now that Locker is showing up on SportsCenter, and in articles written by national media, the praise is coming from all directions, not just from within the program.
Buckeyes linebacker James Laurinaitis compared Locker to Florida’s dual-threat quarterback Tim Tebow, calling Locker “an unbelievable competitor and a big guy with speed.”
Locker has been praised by coaches he already has beaten — Boise State’s Chris Peterson and Syracuse’s Greg Robinson — and by coaches he has yet to face.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a quarterback run that fast,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. “He’s unbelievable. And it’s not like he’s little. He’s a big, fast guy. He’s got an excellent ability to throw the football. He has great awareness for what’s going on around him. I think everyone had high expectations for him, and I think he’s even exceeded the expectations people have had.”
Ah, yes, those expectations. Locker has seemed to do the impossible by tuning out all of those outside expectations. Two games into what some are already predicting to be a spectacular/record-breaking/Hall of Fame/Heisman Trophy winning career, Locker seems to be the same guy he was at Ferndale High School. When asked to comment on the thousands of No. 10 jerseys in the crowd at Husky Stadium, he describes it as “neat.”
Really, Jake? Neat?
“He hasn’t changed since the first time I saw him last year,” center Juan Garcia said. “He’s the same guy, carries himself the same way. He’s just doing his thing. Jake’s just being Jake.”
Locker’s ego may not be growing, but the attention on him is. He has shown up in articles on ESPN.com and other national web sites, he was named the national player of the week by SI On Campus, an offshoot of Sports Illustrated.
Willingham says Locker is handling the hype by setting his own goals high.
“If his expectations are higher than those around him then, then he’s really only dealing with himself,” Willingham said. “And I think he is very capable of doing that.”
Yet for as good as Locker has looked in two games, especially considering he is 19 and had no prior college experience, his teammates say he can be better.
“I’m still not impressed,” receiver Marcel Reece said. “I’ve still seen him do a lot more. It’s just a glimpse of what Jake is capable of and just a glimpse of what this whole offense is capable of.”
Locker agrees he can be better, but like Willingham, he harps on the ultimate goal being victory.
“Well, we have two wins, so I’m happy with that, but there are some things we could have cleaned up in the first game, and the same with the last one,” Locker said. “I think I tried to make too many plays on Saturday and force the ball into spots it didn’t fit, and that was something that coach had told me to avoid throughout camp, through last year and everything.”
He will need to get better as the opponents get harder, starting Saturday with a tough Ohio State defense. Offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said Locker is getting more comfortable in the offense and that the coaches will start to take the reins off of the young quarterback.
“I think he’s getting a lot more confident in his throwing the football,” Lappano said. “He’s telling me, ‘Hey, do what you’ve got to do to win a game. Don’t worry about appeasing me. I’ll do what you’ve got to do to win a game.’ That’s good when a guy can tell you that.”
So, the reins are coming off, and the Locker-mania will inevitably grow. Get used to those press conferences, Jake. Heck, embrace it, you might just think it’s a little bit neat.