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Gregg Bell Unleashed: Locker's 'Legendary' Weekend
Release: 10/06/2010
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Oct. 6, 2010

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SEATTLE - Jake Locker's heroism reached new heights last weekend.

And his phenomenal, 420-yard night in leading the Huskies to a defining win at USC was just half of it.

Think you had a good weekend? I'm betting Locker had the best, most fulfilling one of any college kid in the country.

"Legendary," is what Steve Sarkisian called it.

And the coach was only talking about Saturday.

First, the senior quarterback challenges his teammates in the visiting locker room of the Los Angeles Coliseum Saturday to play loose and without fear against the 18th-ranked Trojans. Then Locker leads by example, playing like he is the top NFL prospect he's renowned to be, running and throwing the underdog Huskies into a fourth-quarter alley fight.

Locker takes a knee to the side of his head at the bottom of a goal-line pile early in the final quarter. After teammates help him to his feet, his knees buckle. He goes back down to the ground, then gets to one knee before trainers help him to the sideline. The scary scene continues as doctors administer concussion tests near the bench, asking him to stick his arms straight out to his side and tilt back his head.

It looks like he won't return. Yet Locker satisfies the doctors that he is OK - then leads Washington on the winning, 61-yard drive. He improvises to complete a pass on fourth-and-11 pass, runs 8 yards on third down for another vital first down, and the Huskies beat USC 32-31 on the final play. It's their first road win in three years.

The raucous flight home doesn't get Locker and the Huskies back to campus until 2:15 a.m. Sunday. He gets up at 8 at his shared house in the Lake City area, so sore and spent it's tough for him to walk.

At 9, he, right tackle and roommate Cody Habben and Locker's dog Ten are at Seattle's Seward Park for the second annual Run of Hope. It is a charity 5K run and 3K walk to honor the memory of Jake's late little friend Kyle Roger, and to benefit pediatric brain cancer research. He wore a navy- blue race T-shirt with "HOPE" in red letters on the front and Kyle's name on the back, along with those of other children who have had cancer.

"I didn't get to sleep until 4 o'clock, but it was great to be there," Locker tells me the next day. "We raised $200,000 and had almost 2,000 people there.

"It was an awesome event. I was really glad to be there."

Locker made it sound like he and Habben and Ten just popped in, said "Hey" and left.

"Here's the thing: He didn't just show up. He came to the finish line to help people finish. He signed autographs. He wore the same shirt the runners wore," said Erin Cordry, the president of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Fund at Seattle Children's Hospital.

Cordry organized the Run of Hope, which has raised $465,000 in its two years. Donations are still welcome, at runofhopeseattle.org.

Locker stayed at the race for 2½ hours. He left only because he had to get back to UW, to finish treatment on his many aches before 1 p.m.

That's when Locker, Habben and fellow senior offensive lineman Ryan Tolar went to the Center for Urban Horticulture just off campus for the funeral for Ran Hennes, a beloved former associate director of the University's honors program and huge supporter of Huskies football.

"He's just the nicest guy you will ever meet," Cordry said of Locker.

Talk about legendary.

"I mean, c'mon, after having such a huge game, then he gets in at 3 a.m, and he's there at 9 a.m. and stays for 2½ hours signing autographs and posing for pictures before he has to go get treatment for all that was hurting him from that game?" Cordry said, with wonder in her voice.

"It's pretty darn remarkable for a college kid. Or for anybody."

Cordry got into the cause after her son Max was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004, when he was 8 years old.

"He just turned 15. He's sort of a miracle. Max is here because other people took the time to research brain tumors," she said.

Cordry then described more of why Locker is so committed to this cause. She explained that cancer is the No. 1 killer of children, and that brain tumors are the most common cancer in kids. She said the National Institutes of Health gives only four percent of its funding to all pediatric illnesses, beyond just cancer. So efforts like Locker's with the Run of Hope are vital to allowing research and progress in combating pediatric cancer to continue.

"I'll tell you what, when my son was sick we met a lot of people who are so-called celebrities, famous people. But we never met anyone like Jake," Cordry said. "There are a lot of good guys who help us. But Jake truly, sincerely, genuinely cares about this cause."

Then Cordry reminded herself how lucky her family has been in beating brain cancer.

"Unfortunately, I see a lot of children who were not as fortunate as we were," she said. "Like Jake's friend Kyle."

Kyle Roger (pronounced ROW-zhay) had just celebrated his sixth birthday when doctors found a rare brain stem tumor in February 2007. Kyle's family then asked to meet the Huskies' star quarterback. Locker didn't just meet Kyle. He brought him to Husky Stadium. He walked him down the long, purple-carpeted tunnel the players run out of from the locker room to the field each game day. They played around on the turf. Someone snapped a keepsake photo of Locker carrying Kyle on his shoulders on the field. Kyle is wearing Locker's purple No. 10 Huskies jersey on his back, a black patch over his right eye and a huge smile on his face.

They became special friends. Locker and the Rogers still consider it that way, even though Kyle passed away on February 7, 2009.

"Jake's relationship with Kyle was so special," Kyle's mom Christin Roger told me by telephone from Bellingham on Tuesday. "It was so impressive to see this kid in college find so many things in common with a 7-year-old boy.

"Watching the way that Kyle and Jake just hung out, it was never about football. Oh, sure, Kyle loved going to Husky Stadium, loved watching Jake in the games. He was the biggest Huskies fan. But it was just about two boys -- a boy and a young man -- just goofing around."

She thinks Locker is honoring the memory of Kyle by staying close to his brother Nicolas, who is now 11 and has the coolest friend anyone in his middle school can imagine.

"That kind of friendship and sincerity in a college student is rare. It's really amazing," Roger said, chuckling instead of crying.

"He is a pretty good dude."

Locker would rather throw four interceptions in a game than detail all he does outside of football. Though he is one of the biggest stars UW athletics has had in decades, he wants it to be about the cause, not him.

So no, the Locker10in10.com site was not his idea. It was that of the UW athletic department.

When I stopped him after practice Tuesday to tell him Kristin Roger said hello, Jake gushed about how great she is.

"She did everything. She raised all this money (at the Race of Hope)," Locker said. "She's a great lady. It was a great event."

Roger said Locker walked stiffly when he climbed out of Habben's truck and arrived at the race.

"I mean, he was beat up," she said. "He came in his cowboy boots I think so that could be his excuse for moving slowly.

"But he was fantastic. He has this way about him. Even with the large number of people there around him, he's able to take each interaction with a child and make him feel like it's just him and the kid. It's hard to describe. It's just a gift he has."

"He's special."

So remember all this if Locker has another bad game, like his career-worst day in the loss to Nebraska last month that had many doubting him. Remember this if he falls short of the enormous expectations we've bestowed on this savior in purple from a small town in northwest Washington.

Jake's got a whole lot more going for him than what we're watching on Saturdays.

About Gregg Bell

Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.

Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.

Contact Gregg Bell: ghbell@uw.edu

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