Jake Locker era of Husky football is almost over

Jake, more than anyone else in program, will make this happen by allowing those around him to flourish. He will become the facilitator of the offense. It will be his job to get the ball to his playmakers and let them make the plays. He will do his part and he will be the most efficient he has ever been at doing so. He will do whatever it takes to win.

I can’t remember a single player who has played at Washington in the past 25 years who has had more expectations placed on him than Jake Locker. The pressure has been immense, but I guess it just comes with the territory of being a top quarterback prospect.

He came out of Ferndale High School as a champion and was so coveted that he could have picked his school. Texas came in at the last minute to try and lure him to Austin. Instead he picked his family and went to the school closest to his home. That is what makes him so special and it’s also what makes him so grounded. He comes from a wonderful family and has had their support throughout his time at Washington. And it’s been needed, because it hasn’t been easy.

Since Jake arrived at Washington, the Huskies have gone 14-35, and even though he red-shirted one of those seasons and was hurt for most of another, the team didn’t really come together until the end of the last season. He has been spectacular at times but unable to make key plays at other times. While still being a team game, he knows if he had simply made a play or two at the end of last year’s games against UCLA, ASU and Notre Dame that his team would have and should have won those three games. He knows they were that close to being 8-4 and in a bowl.

I think he came back to finish the job.

Even before he had practiced a single day at Washington, he was dubbed the “savior” and was expected to win no matter who he played with or who he played for. If Cal’s Kyle Boller was dubbed the first ‘Jesus in Cleats’, Jake was definitely the next in line. Unfortunately for him, it was not a winning combination either way. Until now.

Despite the disappointment and heartache that comes with losing, Jake has always carried himself with poise and dignity. He may have tried too hard at times to simply make something happen. When his body also broke down it cost himself and his team the rest of their season, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise because Tyrone Willingham banked his whole offense around Jake. Once he got hurt early in the 2008 season, his team and coaches were devastated. The season unraveled to the point where they couldn’t beat a really weak WSU team. They were a defeated team in every way and record-wise the worst in the history of the program. I know he took it personally, even though he only played in a couple of games.

I watched him play in high school and throughout his career at Washington and I think he has made notable improvements, especially since Steve Sarkisian and Doug Nussmeier arrived on campus. He now has the luxury of having two coaches working with him who have both played the position themselves. He has never been more ready mentally for a season to begin.

Throughout his time at Washington, the demands on his privacy and his own time have also been overwhelming. He signs more autographs with the fans and takes more time with the press than all of his teammates put together. I have watched him in all sorts of situations with all sorts of crazy questions asked and he has always been kind, straight up and honest. We saw that all day on ESPN Monday.

He is a gentleman and a warrior and I think he’s earned the chance to win again.

So here he is – four years later – and again has had the bulls-eye of high expectations put in the middle of his chest because of his Heisman aspirations and professional potential. I find it interesting that his pro status immediately rocketed up once he decided to return for his senior season.

I also think that when he decided to stay and try to finish what he started with his team mates, it set into motion a number of things which might indicate the stars are aligning for the Huskies to rise to the top.

Think about it; Jake decided to come back and then coach Sarkisian stays loyal to his team and says he is not interested in any job, including the one at USC, and then signs the best recruiting class in a decade. Then the first four kids out of that signing class enroll early and all prove to be players, including two running backs that will really compliment Chris Polk. Both Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier are the kinds of playmakers who will make this Husky team special.

Jake also returns an experienced receiver corps that he has been working with for a few years now. He knows that Jermaine Kearse is special and that at least four others are capable of making big plays. He has improved his own ball placement and his anticipation of their routes. He now knows what is expected of him within the system he is playing in, and his completion percentage has improved every year. He is at his highest understanding of game ever. Physically he is primed.

He is ready to win.

His leadership has never been in question since the day he walked on the campus. This is clearly his team, his show, and his opportunity to prove he is a winner on the field as well as off.

He understands the statistics that will help his team win: Complete 65 percent of his passes with no turnovers, no forced throws and no bad snap or hand-off problems. Keep the chains moving and make the third down throws and runs to do so. Score whenever in the red-zone and maintain the positive expectation of winning. He knows what it takes.

Jake Locker is already one of the most popular players in the history of the program, and will still be regardless of how his career at UW ends. He has had the most jerseys sold of any Seattle athlete this year. They can’t keep enough “No. 10’s” in stock and the success of his recent ESPN ‘Car Wash’ now means that he’s front and center on the national stage. It’s just the beginning, as there will be a concerted effort to enhance his chances for national awards. He will be on the cover of magazines and he will be pre-season all-everything – none of which is seemingly important to him because he knows that if the team wins, the individual praise will come.

I asked coach Nussmeier the other day what one thing would really help Jake to improve. His answer had nothing to do mechanics, ability, technique, or fundamentals. “He really just needs to trust his team mates and not feel like he has to do everything himself,” said coach.

Jake knows the BYU opener on the road will be a test but he has done it before – against Syracuse years ago. But everything is different: He has a different team, with new expectations, brought about by new staff of coaches and new belief in what they are doing. Now it’s up to Jake to go out and make it happen. Win his first game and take it from there.