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September 2, 2009The fall of 2006 when Jake Locker arrived at Montlake, it was advertised as a new begging for Husky football. Suffering through a Rick Neuheisel inspired controversy, a couple subsequent coaching changes and only three wins the following two seasons, Locker was charged with turning it all around.
In 2007 it appeared his destiny. A redshirt freshman, Locker traveled to Syracuse, NY and put on a show. He completed 14-of-19 passes, ran all over the Orangemen and led the Huskies to a 42-12 win. He followed that up with 277 all-purpose yards and two more scores in an upset win over a ranked Boise State.
Husky Nation was on cloud-nine and Tyrone Willingham was the man flying them there. But as the heat rose, that cloud evaporated and Washington lost six games in a row on the way to a 4-9 season.
It only got worse for Locker and his teammates the following year. From unfortunate to macabre, Washington fans witnessed a possible win against BYU get tossed into the air and Locker suffer a season ending injury only two weeks later.
"It was hard for me to sit and watch, especially with the struggles we went through last season," explained Locker. "It was hard not to be on the field with my teammates and try to do something to help us win some football games."
Opening weekend in College football is one of the most exciting times of the year for both fans and players. It's a game after all, it's supposed to be fun. But 14 losses in a row isn't very fun for anyone, even when you love the game as much as Locker.
"It's still the game of football. It's still something I have enjoyed playing since I was little," he expressed. "But, it's a lot more fun when you are winning.
"If we come out and play like we are capable of playing; play hard, fast and physically, it will be something that is really enjoyable to be a part of," Locker continued. "Obviously what happened last year and in years past was not something we signed up for. We are eager to get to a point where we can turn it around and enjoy ourselves on the field."
With only two seasons left to make his mark on the program, Locker admits he feels a responsibility to the players who will follow him.
"One of the things coach has told us, 'is the past is the past,' and you can't do anything about it. I don't know if it's up to us to prove we are not last years team, but to show we are a new team, that there is a new attitude and a new way we do things around here.
"I think going out and setting the foundation throughout this season will be the responsibility of this football team. To carry it on from there will be the responsibility of the guys who come along in the future."
That process begins on Saturday, but like everything else Locker has faced since arriving in Seattle, it's going to be a challenge. Washington will welcome in the No. 11 ranked LSU Tigers, a team that could compete for an SEC title and perhaps even more. They return their top passer, rusher and receiver from a season ago and are stacked with NFL talent on defense. But for Locker, it doesn't matter who he plays, he just wants back on the field.
"I think against any team, getting back out and being able to play would be exciting and would be fun," he explained. "But against a team like that [LSU], against a great team, it will be a test. It's exciting for me when you get to play the best teams in the country. That's one of the reasons I chose to come here, because year in and year out I get the opportunity to play against some of the best teams in the country."
A big challenge will be calming his nerves prior to the game. Locker is one of the most animated players on the field and plays with his emotion on his sleeve. Exiting the tunnel at a sold out Husky Stadium on Saturday is going to be an exciting moment.
"I will just be trying to keep myself calm enough to go out and play," said Locker. "There is going to be a lot of adrenaline, a lot of excitement. Just to be able to have the uniform on and knowing you are going to be on the field with the guys again. It's a great feeling and it's different when you know your not going to play."
But, not a lot has gone right for Washington the past five seasons and Locker understands he will face adversity in their opening game.
"There will be a point in the game when something goes good for them and something goes bad for us. We have to be prepared to deal with that and move on to the next play. We just have to play fast, play physical, do our assignments well and understand there is going to be some adversity throughout the game. How we get through that adversity will ultimately decide the outcome of the football game."
If anyone can help lead Washington through adversity it's Locker. But this time around it's not about fulfilling a prophecy or living up to hype, it's just about playing football with his teammates and friends again.
"It was hard to sit and watch last season. Getting out on the field again and being able to play with the guys is something I'm really looking forward to."