Nov. 2, 2010
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Jake Locker had barely gotten off the elevator to enter the Founder's Club at Hec Edmundson Pavilion before he became cornered by a dozen or so inquisitors with notepads, voice recorders and video cameras.
He had just completed seven of 14 passes for 64 yards Saturday night in his Huskies' loss to Stanford. He'd been sacked three times, harassed many more times than that. And charging Stanford pass rushers had driven him multiple times into the not-so-soft turf at Husky Stadium.
Those hits resulted in his hairline rib fracture cracking into more of a true break, an injury that will keep Locker out this Saturday when Washington (3-5, 2-3 Pac-10) plays at No. 1 Oregon (8-0, 5-0).
Yet last weekend the senior co-captain stood tall and accepted responsibility for a 41-0 loss. He regretted throws he misfired on. All he said about an injury he sustained early in the game but played three quarters with, a jabbing pain that makes every one of his breaths difficult, was: "I'm fine. A little sore."
No excuses. No surprise.
It's another example of why Locker is so valuable to the Huskies -- in victory and in defeat, while fully healthy or painfully injured.
"He's an absolute stud," coach Steve Sarkisian said. "That is what makes him so special. It's not about always the completions, or the touchdowns or the interceptions. It's about the heart. He embodies a huge heart. I think that is why I love coaching him, and I think that's why his teammates love playing with him."
The love is mutual.
Sarkisian called Locker "courageous" and "extremely loyal." He said the quarterback was "pretty shook up" when the team's medical staff told him Sunday he would not be playing against the Ducks.
"The thing that bothers him the most is that he feels like maybe he's letting his teammates down," Sarkisian said. "They don't feel that way at all about it."
Now, Locker will be backup Keith Price's biggest supporter for the redshirt freshman's first career start Saturday, at Autzen Stadium. The tutoring began in practice on Monday.
"One of the biggest things for me is making sure that I help Keith," Locker said of the dual-threat from Compton, Calif. "It's a little new environment for him, and I let him know that I'll be there for him and help prepare him to the best of my ability. And with the rest of the guys, too, let them know that I'll be their No. 1 cheerleader Saturday."
Locker could have dropped hints after the Stanford game as to why he threw for his fewest yards since he left a 2008 game against the Cardinal early with a broken thumb.
After the loss at Arizona the week before, Locker could have said how the rib injury kept him from running and providing the dual threat to a defense that he normally does.
After the loss at home to Arizona State last month, he could have gone on about the deep thigh bruise that restricted him that night. Or the bad head cold that had him gasping to catch his breath and at a hospital following the game getting intravenous fluids.
Instead, he said this when asked how badly the rib bothered him recently: "Obviously (I was) good enough to play. It was something that wasn't taken lightly each week. It was something that was checked out and making sure nothing changed from week to week. It's something they made sure that I was comfortable with, and my family was comfortable with.
"It was sore, but that's part of football."
And don't ask what you might be thinking. No, Locker does not wish he'd turned pro after last season, to play behind a larger and likely more experienced offensive line in the NFL.
"It's not how you would have wanted to draw it up," he said of his senior season in which he has 253 yards rushing, 1,678 yards passing with a completion rate of 56 percent, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. "But I said at the time of my decision, and I'll stick to it now: I don't regret it. I wouldn't do it any different. We still have a lot to play for in this season."
I asked him specifically how much the hairline fracture and now cracked rib have affected his play in recent weeks.
"It didn't have anything to do with my play," Locker said flatly.
No effect at all?
No excuses. No surprise.