May 19, 2010
BELLINGHAM - Hugh Locker recalled the days when his five-year-old grandson Jake would play basketball in his Ferndale, Wash., driveway. Locker would grab a squishy Nerf ball, dunk it, and then strut around the house.
"Somehow, you just knew he'd be an athlete," said the eldest Locker from the patio at the Bellwether Hotel Ballroom, framed by a sweeping view of the Puget Sound. "He had this way about him, like he wanted everyone to see him play."
No name is bigger in this part of the state than Locker's, whose family has maintained a presence in Whatcom County for generations. Located almost 90 miles north of Seattle, this region has been a fervent supporter of the Husky football program ever since its resident son made the decision to play quarterback for Washington four years ago. This is the same area that used to pack Ferndale's stadium when Locker led the Golden Eagles to a 37-4 record in four seasons, and now caravans en masse to Husky Stadium.
On Tuesday night, Jake Locker was celebrated at a "Huskies Celebrating Huskies" event, part of the athletic department's four-city barnstorming tour around the Evergreen State. Locker was joined by a cavalcade of Huskies coaches, including head coach Steve Sarkisian, as well as members of the senior administrative staff. In response, more than 300 fans - many from Ferndale - made the trip to downtown Bellingham to re-connect with one of the region's most well-known products.
A few Bellingham residents in attendance beamed with pride at the success that Locker has enjoyed over the course of his career.
"We're so proud of that fact that he's a local product who's made good," said Tom Folles, a 1966 graduate of Washington and a native of the region. "He's been a joy to watch."
This was the popular sentiment echoed by others at the Bellwether. Not only have they enjoyed watching him play, but it's rejuvenated their interest in Husky football. Folles was adamant when he described the Whatcom County area as "Husky Country."
During the two-hour event, Locker shook hands and posed for photographs with several guests. He signed a countless number of autographs. Locker then took the podium to join Sarkisian onstage, where the duo took questions from the crowd. The highlight came when a curious visitor, who happens to coach men's basketball at the UW, wanted to know what Locker would do should it be fourth down and some frothing linebacker is the only barrier to the end zone.
Lorenzo Romar, of course, already knew the answer. So did Sarkisian, who later joked that he had seen Locker slide once during his tenure, and it wasn't pretty.
"How does a baseball player not know how to slide?" Sarkisian asked his quarterback.
Before his grandson went on stage, Hugh Locker remarked at how Jake never seemed to recoil or cringe at the attention he receives back home. Despite the demands for his time, Locker graciously accommodated all visitors and well-wishers, including one particular youth who beamed at the new autograph on her No. 10 Huskies jersey.
"It means a lot to him to come back home, because these are his roots," Hugh said. "This is where he's from."