Respect is due for upcoming foe


What I am about to ask might come across as an act of heresy, or worse, the request of someone who fits perfectly in the mold of Benedict Arnold’s second coming.

But before you choose to question my party ties or check to see what school colors I bleed, please hear me out.

Still fighting · Quarterback Jake Locker, shown here against the Trojans in 2009, decided to forgo the NFL draft for his senior season. - Daily Trojan file photo

When Washington’s senior quarterback Jake Locker enters the Coliseum Saturday night, hold back your typical howls of disgust and take the high road.

Yes. That’s correct. As the 6-foot-3-inch 230-pound quarterback saunters onto the field for the Huskies’ first offensive drive, you should welcome him with what he deserves during his final tour around the Pac-10 conference — respectful and sincere applause.

This might not seem fitting for a man who single-handedly squashed the Trojans’ 2009 BCS Title chances, with 237 passing yards and a back-breaking 68-yard scoring drive during last year’s shocking September upset.

Nonetheless, it is an opportunity for each of us to give something back to an individual who personifies everything that still remains pure in a sport clouded by an imperfect ranking system, agent interference and scandals galore — not as fans of the university, but as knowledgeable followers of the collegiate game.

Coming out of Washington’s Ferndale High School in 2005 as the state’s 3A Player of the Year, Locker entered his freshman season facing an enormous amount of pressure to bring his state the level of success not seen since the early 1990s.

He was to be the Pac-10 Conference’s next golden arm, following in the recent footsteps of names like Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Aaron Rodgers.

However, the success the Bellingham, Wash., native found in his initial season as a Husky didn’t make for any front-page headlines or afford him any face time on ESPN.

Instead, he was relegated to leading a much different type of unit — the practice team.

But it was here that the legend of Jake Locker was born.

It was during those quiet film sessions and isolated hours of irrelevance and humility that Locker, traveling squad quarterback, became the face of the University of Washington and its program’s finest student of the game.

Three years later, with a bevy of accomplishments in his rearview mirror — the 2007 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, 2009 Seattle Male Sports Star of the Year and the 2009 Guy Flaherty Most Inspirational Award, to name a few — the easiest decision for one of the nation’s best dual-threat quarterbacks would have been to bypass his senior season and head for greener pastures when the NFL came calling last spring.

After all, the Pac-10’s reigning passing and total offense leader was never recognized with the Heisman brass that Leinart won in 2004, nor did his noteworthy exploits receive nearly the amount of adoration that media darlings Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford grew so accustomed to during their rises to notoriety.

Any attention, especially when it came from the likes of ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay — who both predicted Locker to be the No. 1 pick overall — would have made even the most gun-shy of athletes ready to make the leap to the next level.

But for a young man who finds comfort spending his summer nights cheering on UW’s women’s softball team in the College World Series rather than abusing his quickly growing celebrity status to maneuver through crowded nightclubs in Seattle, there was no surprise when the Emerald State’s most prized gridiron star chose one more year of college football.

“The thing about Jake is that he is one of the most sincere, genuine guys,” said Husky senior linebacker Mason Foster after Locker announced he would stay. “I knew he was going to come back.”

Crazy? Maybe a little.

Admirable? Without a doubt.

Simply put, Locker is spending his final 13 games giving people one more four-month chance to witness how he has remarkably redefined the word “sincere.”

There was no conscious thought of the money or yearning to fill an already-crammed trophy case with some of college football’s finest postseason awards.

No, Locker is driven by something much deeper, a concept that he is truly the pigskin version of his brother’s keeper.

“No guy in that locker room has ever been to a bowl game as a player,” Locker said about the decision. “I know they all had aspirations to. I know I did.”

And although the storybook ending for the beleaguered program — which has only won 17 games since 2005 — and its once-in-a-generation face appears to be a far cry from reality after two painful early season losses to BYU and Nebraska, the journey is one that every Pac-10 student, fan, employee and rabid devotee should embrace with open arms.

Look around the landscape of the NFL. More specifically, take a glance at who is lining up for your favorite professional team behind center.

Entering week one, an impressive seven starting quarterbacks of the 32 teams hailed from the Pac-10. Outside of the pearly gates of Troy, however, only former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers was a first-round draft pick.

The others: bed-ridden Dennis Dixon, recent member of the nation’s unemployment line Trent Edwards, newly minted second-stringer Matt Moore and Derek Anderson, the owner of the league’s lowest completion percentage for a quarterback who has played in all three games.

In recent years, the Pac-10 (outside of USC) has delivered some of the more underwhelming passers that the game has seen in quite some time. Somewhere down the line from Jim Plunkett to John Elway to Troy Aikman to Carson Palmer, the torch fell and no one seemed to notice.

So before Locker’s decision to return to school for his senior season becomes a joke, appreciate the bold individual and the choice he has made.

The 22-year-old might never win the Heisman, his draft stock might see him shaking Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand a little later in the first round than initially expected and that ever-elusive bowl game appearance might ultimately prove to be nothing short of a pipe dream.

But regardless, Locker’s unselfish desire to act on the basis of “we” rather than “me” makes his senior season not only a win for the University of Washington, but a resounding victory for a conference looking for some steady hands to carry the once-fabled quarterback torch again.

So on Saturday night, allow yourself to be color-blinded by No. 10, if only for a few moments.

There is no shame in taking the rare occasion to thank him for restoring a frequently tarnished game’s reputation with a career that preaches an utmost sense of commitment to the team concept and a steadfast passion for upholding the privilege of playing between the white lines.

I know I will.

“For The Love Of The Game” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Dave at dulberg@usc.edu.

3 replies
  1. Christin
    Christin says:

    There is more to this young man than football. His commitment to the team matches his commitment to community. He is the spokesperson for the Run of Hope in Seattle – taking place this Sunday. And despite getting back to Seattle at 2AM this Saturday morning he will be at the event Sunday morning. The event raises money for Pediatric Brain Tumor Research and he’s participation is in honor and memory of his friendship with my eight-year-old son, Kyle, who passed away from a rare brain tumor last year. Thank you for seeing what so many seem to miss. http://www.runofhopeseattle.com

  2. Ruth
    Ruth says:

    A very heartfelt article. The sentiments and beliefs are ones that are frequently lost in the dayso f high salaries and instant fame that is dangled in the faces of todays premier college athletes. Nice to see that someone out there recognizes the strength of character, moral conviction and sense of team that is required for one to “stay the course” and remain in a not so winning program for the full four years….maybe actually getting an education out o that time as well.

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