Jake Locker: The West Coast’s Tim Tebow

Photo: Robert Beck/SI

Photo: Robert Beck/SI

Hype is a common output of college football recruiting. Over-hyping becomes dangerous, nothing will set up fans of a program for more disappointment than advanced expectation. Direct comparison of a young recruit to an already established player can sink a career. As fans we are all guilty of this. I can personally attest to this as I once labeled current Washington QB Jake Locker “West Coast Tim Tebow” before he ever took a snap for the Huskies. Tim Tebow’s legendary toughness and leadership abilities have led to two national titles, a Heisman Trophy and a permanent spot in the “best college quarterback of all-time” debate. See what I meant about direct comparison sinking a career? There is no way Jake Locker was ever going to be able to live up to these expectations.

Still, extreme hype does have a source. Jake Locker was a force to be reckoned with in high school. As a starter he went 37-4 and won three state titles. He ran a 4.6 40 yard dash and had a cannon for an arm. His high school team, Ferndale, was nationally ranked in his final season, not a bad accomplishment for a 3A program from Washington state. He was the 7th ranked quarterback in what was a stacked class (others ranked in front of him include Matthew Stafford, Tim Tebow, Mitch Mustain, and Jevan Snead). It is feasible he could have been ranked higher, maybe even #1, had he truly been able to let the ball fly in high school, but Ferndale uses the rare Wing-T formation, seen here:

Obviously this formation isn’t conducive to big passing plays.

Locker was lured to Washington by then head coach Ty Willingham, who had a lot of recruiting success during his time with the Huskies but not a lot of on-field success. Locker red-shirted his first year but in 2007 he was given the starting job and proved he was worth the hype. He was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and set a conference record for rushing yards by a QB with 986. He ran for 13 tds, threw for 14 and 2,062 yards. Overall it was a rough year, the team went 4-9 and was sunk by some tough non-conference games. Still, Locker looked like a star in the making. Then 2008 happened.

Nothing will derail a career faster than a thumb injury and a winless season. Locker and the Huskies never had a chance in 2008, their first three games were against ranked opponents. They lost them all and then lost Locker for the season due to a thumb injury. Washington went 0-12, Locker only played in four games and was quickly dismissed from our collective consciousness. Had Locker been able to play that year the Huskies would have certainly won a few more games, at the very least they would have beaten Washington State.

Entering 2009 Washington football was an afterthought, even though there was some momentum over the hiring of Steve Sarkisian. The only reason Locker received publicity as the top QB in the conference was due to the lack of talent at the position. He was still living off his recruiting hype and his strong freshman season. But in the season’s first game, against a highly ranked LSU team, Locker showed an ESPN audience that he was back to 2007 form. He threw for 327 yards and ran for 52 against a solid LSU defense. Here was a winless Washington team, putting a scare in a traditional SEC power mostly because of Locker’s impressive athletic ability. LSU was expecting a QB with the jersey #12 to give them fits on the air and ground this year, they just didn’t expect it would happen in Seattle.

Locker followed up his performance against LSU with a strong performance in Washington’s shocking upset victory over USC. Locker didn’t light up the scoreboard, but he didn’t turn the ball over and led a game-winning drive for the ages. All of the sudden he was back on the national radar. He was the “West Coast Tebow” against. His team was ranked. Life was good. Of course the Huskies stumbled a bit, a blowout loss to Stanford and a tough loss against Notre Dame followed. They rebounded against Arizona, winning on a once-in-a-lifetime fluke play.

Locker’s been through a lot in his college career so far, but his skill set still makes the sky the limit for him. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Angles even though he hasn’t played baseball in years. If he turns pro after this season he will be one of the top QB prospects and might even find himself as a first round draft pick. If he stays with Washington he has a real shot to do something special in 2010 and move into the pantheon of Washington Huskie football players. I’m sure Locker will tell you he isn’t thinking of any of that right now. All he is thinking about is the Arizona State Sun Devils, his next opponent. The Huskies are 3-2, three wins away from bowl eligibility. If they achieve that, and they probably will, Steve Sarkisian is going to get a lot of credit. But Coach Sark couldn’t have done it without Locker. I would suggest you watch this guy if you get the chance, he is a truly unique talent.

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