Sept. 13, 2007
SEATTLE (AP) - To commemorate the 1960 Washington Huskies, who beat No. 1 Minnesota in the Rose Bowl, the university wanted to market throwback jerseys with the number 60 on them this season.
Northwest retailers, however, balked at 60. The retailers' message: "Put No. 10 on it, and we'll buy them."
They did and they're selling as fast as this year's Huskies have started.
No. 10 is worn by redshirt freshman Jake Locker, the quarterback who has Washington 2-0 for the first time since 2001 entering Saturday's showdown with No. 10 Ohio State (2-0) at Husky Stadium.
Sales of UW athletic gear are up 20 percent this year from September 2006. That's at least partly attributable to Locker, the dynamic dual-threat and supposed savior of a program that has spent the last three seasons at the bottom of the Pac-10.
With 4.4 speed and a sturdy 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, Locker is a West Coast version of Tim Tebow, Florida's bullish quarterback.
Against Boise State, Locker dragged two would-be tacklers five yards across the goal line in a 24-10 win that snapped the Broncos' 14-game winning streak. In the 42-12 season-opening victory against Syracuse, Locker ran 10 times for 83 yards and two scores. Boise State watched him run for 83 more and a touchdown, and pass for 193 yards and another score.
Ohio State already knows.
"I'm not sure I've ever seen a quarterback run that fast. I mean, he's unbelievable," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. "And it's not like he's a little guy. ... And I think he has tremendous ability throwing the football.
"I know everybody had high expectations for him. I think he's even exceeded the expectations people have had."
Locker has Seattle buzzing about Washington football for the first time since Rick Neuheisel was fired in turmoil just before the 2003 season; the Huskies haven't had a winning season since.
"Yeah, he kind of has that effect on people," Locker's father, Scott, said this week, laughing at all the commotion his son is causing.
Locker grew up in Ferndale, Wash., a town of about 10,000 in the northwest corner of the state near the Canadian border. He was equally adept at football and baseball -- all-state at both at Ferndale High School.
"Growing up, Husky football was not a huge thing in my house," said Locker, whose father and uncles played at Division II Western Washington University. "We never had one team that we rooted for."
A sellout crowd of over 70,000 -- perhaps the largest crowd in four years -- is expected Saturday to see the Huskies take on the Buckeyes. Thousands of them will be wearing purple, No. 10 jerseys. Last week, swaths of the student section and many more were wearing them -- and Locker had never even played in the stadium before.
"It's special. And it's not just the students," said Scott Locker, who hosted a tailgate party with over 200 people and five RVs present last week. "The really neat part is seeing the 80-year-old guy and his wife and they are both wearing his jersey. And the 3-year-old and his little brother.
"You go, 'Wow!' For him to be a role model, especially for little kids, for his parents it's very special."
His son noticed the jerseys, too.
"It's pretty neat," Jake said.
Winning is nothing new to Locker. He hasn't lost since his junior season at Ferndale High. A four-year starter there -- he was a defensive back as a freshman-- he is 39-4 as a quarterback at Ferndale and at Washington.
Running back Louis Rankin is seeing lots of open space as defenses gear to stop his quarterback. He said Locker is the main reason Washington's attitude is reversed from the team that started 4-1 last season but finished 5-7 when starter quarterback Isaiah Stanback was lost for the season with an injury.
"Our mentality is different this year," Rankin said. "We go into games expecting lots of points on the board -- as opposed to last year, hoping to stick with teams."
Washington coach Tyrone Willingham took extra measures last year in hopes the prized recruit of his three-year tenure at Washington would excel this season -- and for three more beyond. Willingham made Locker the only redshirting player to travel with the team last season, giving him a chance to soak up the experience of being in uniform at Oklahoma and Southern California, as well as Husky Stadium.
He constantly preached to Locker to avoid careless throws, eliminate turnovers -- the kind of things a coach tells his starter, not a player who never saw the field.
When Stanback went down for the season, Willingham resisted the temptation to take the redshirt off Locker and endured a six-game losing streak instead.
"At the time it was hard. You always want to be on the field," Locker said. "But looking back on it, it was the best thing for me."
Yet this savior, this star who has hosted a critically ill child for a spring afternoon of throwing the ball around the turf of Husky Stadium, makes mistakes.
Locker could've thrown three interceptions in the first quarter last week, but Boise State defenders dropped the balls.
"We have two wins, so I'm happy with that," Locker said. "But I think I tried to make some plays and force the ball into some spots that didn't fit. That was something coach had kind of told me to avoid through all camp, through all last year. There are things that I need to take care."
He seems older than 19 at times, but not all the time.
Locker has already played about half of the Huskies' 2007 schedule already on his 2008 NCAA football video game in his dorm room -- Saturday's game against the Buckeyes, and a few weeks beyond.
"And we're undefeated," he said, chuckling with a huge smile. "It's going well."