April 28, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - So much for all those so-called "experts," all those naysayers who howled that Jake Locker cost himself millions by passing up a top-10 pick in last year's NFL draft.
"Montlake Jake" is now "Nashville Jake," thanks to a top-10 pick in this year's draft. It likely will net him just about all that money he supposedly passed up in 2010 - as if he cared about that.
The Tennessee Titans selected former Huskies record-setting quarterback Jake Locker eighth overall in the first round of the NFL Draft Thursday night.
He already has the country music and the cowboy boots for his new city, home of the Grand Ole Opry.
"I'm on Cloud 9," Locker said from a characteristically low-key gathering of family and close friends at his aunt and uncle's house in Ferndale, Wash.
"I've had a great supporting cast my whole life. Family and friends have given me a good example of what leadership is and I've just tried to do my best to follow suit in that. Learn from what they have taught me and apply it to my life in every situation on and off the field. I look forward to bringing that to the Titans."
To get an idea what may come Locker's way next - provided the NFL fixes its current labor mess with players: The Oakland Raiders gave last spring's eighth-overall draft pick, linebacker Rolando McClain out of Alabama, a $40 million, five-year contract with $23 million guaranteed.
Locker was the second quarterback drafted, behind Carolina's top overall choice Cam Newton of Auburn. He is the highest-drafted quarterback in UW history, going 51 picks higher than second-round selection Marques Tuiasosopo was in 2001 by the Raiders.
"There's a lot of greats that've played at the university. I'm honored to be a part of that group," he said. "To have that opportunity (to be the first No. 1 pick) has been a blessing."
True to his understated, down-to-earth nature, Locker was the only one of the first picks not at Radio City Music Hall in New York for the league's glitz and television cameras.
Instead, Locker was at home in little Ferndale, just below the Canadian border, watching the draft on TV with the people he cherishes most. He and his fiancé, former UW softball player Lauren Greer, were sampling foods from their caterer who will serve at their wedding in Ferndale in July.
How cool is that?
"Congrats Jake, you deserve it!!!" said Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, who successfully molded Locker into more of a pro-style passer in the quarterback's final two seasons at UW.
Locker told GoHuskies.com this month he would have loved for his hometown Seattle Seahawks, who owned the 25th overall pick Thursday, to draft him.
But he's just glad to be going anywhere to play in the world's elite football league.
"Oh, sure. I grew up rooting for them. It's obvious that it'd be cool to be close to home and play for them," Locker said three weeks ago, hours after working at for the Seahawks at the team's headquarters in Renton.
"But like I've said I don't know how many times, just to play in the NFL - for anybody, any place, for any organization - is a dream come true. That's enough for me."
Locker is going to a remodeling, run-first Titans team that has a new rookie head coach in Hall-of-Fame NFL lineman Mike Munchak and has already announced five-year veteran quarterback Vince Young will not return to it for the 2011 season. Young crossed the Titans by having problems with attitude and work ethic.
No one has - or will ever - have problems with Locker on those traits.
"I think we have a new culture here at the quarterback spot and (now) a guy that is going to be the first one in here and the last one out," Titans veteran offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said in Nashville.
Tennessee has 17-year veteran Kerry Collins, nine-year vet Chris Simms, two-year pro Rusty Smith formerly of Florida Atlantic and two-year veteran Brett Ratliff out of Utah as quarterbacks currently on its roster. The Titans also have Chris Johnson, a 2,000-yard rusher two seasons ago, and an emphasis on offensive-line play that should help smooth Locker's transition into the NFL. "I just pictured myself in the huddle with this guy, and thought, `Man, these guys will love playing for this guy,"' Munchak said. "I think he has got something special like that that he'll bring out the best in other players. I think they'll want to play hard for him. ... He's one of those guys who's going to find a way to win for us, and I think that the guys in this building will believe in him."
The Titans reportedly still plan to add a veteran quarterback to the roster once free agency opens, but they are going to give Locker a chance to win the starting job right away.
"We wouldn't hold it against him that he's a rookie," Munchak said.
Locker was a four-year starter who ended his UW career at or near the top of most of Washington's career passing and quarterback-rushing lists. He turned down a chance to become a first-round pick last year to return as a senior to get the Huskies to their first bowl since 2002. He did that in December, rushing for a touchdown and even catching a pass in leading UW to an upset of Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
He wowed the Titans with, of all things, a jump rope.
Palmer and Tennessee's staff went to Seattle to work out Locker before the draft, "and through the workout I thought he could work on his feet, which I think will help him," Palmer said.
"We gave him the task to see how many successful rotations jumping rope he could have in 30 seconds. The first week he writes back -- texts me back -- and says, `Hey, I got 80 and I got 85.' I said, `Well your goal is when you get in here to be up over 100.'"
Sure enough, by the time Locker visited Nashville three weeks later he was over 100.
As Palmer wryly remarked, pick up a jump rope right now at home and try to get 100 revolutions in 30 seconds.
"That just spoke volumes about what kind of guy he was and the type of responsibility that he takes," Palmer said. " I was very, very impressed with him from the first workout, in visiting with him and doing the things that you want a quarterback to do. During the course of the workout I tried to coach him on a couple of things and he responded very, very well to it."
As every Husky from Ferndale to Seattle and beyond would say about their beloved, dedicated quarterback:
What else would you expect from Jake Locker?