Washington's Locker Impreses At Spring's First Practice

April 10, 2007

By GREGG BELL
AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE (AP) - The era of Jake Locker - the shaved-headed would-be savior of Husky football - has arrived.

Three Washington quarterbacks clanged some passes off a net with pocket targets about 15 yards away at Monday's opening spring practice. Locker's first two throws crisply entered the center pocket.

While most of the day's passes wobbled and skipped off the Husky Stadium turf like wind-blown paper, Locker's sliced through a stiff wind without losing their tight spirals. His throw from the opposite hash mark on Marcel Reece's 15-yard out route, a pass that covered about 30 yards in the air, stuck like a dart into Reece's chest.

Then came the proof that Locker is more than a silky smooth thrower. The ultra-hyped, 18-year-old redshirt freshman ran right on with the option to keep the ball or pitch to a tailback. He kept it and ran past all the lineman. Then he cut left diagonally, completely across the field while outrunning all 21 players - the entire offense and defense - for a 78-yard touchdown.

``He's got wheels. Obviously, he's got all the tools he needs to succeed,'' Huskies senior linebacker Dan Howell said of Washington's expected quarterback for the next four years - beginning with the season opener Aug. 31 at Syracuse now that coach Tyrone Willingham has named Locker his starter entering the preseason.

``I'm excited to see what he's going to do,'' said Howell, who has endured 1-10, 2-9 and 5-7 records during his first three years at UW. ``I'm looking forward to seeing if he's going to be the role model for the school and lead us to victories. Because Lord knows we need it.''

Yet even though he looked better by far than any of the other three quarterbacks - including 23-year-old senior Carl Bonnell - Locker wasn't happy.

He said he still has to adjust to how much faster college defensive players are than high schoolers. That showed on a 20-yard pass over the middle that linebacker E.J. Savannah raced back to intercept.

``By the way I performed today, I'm not worthy of (starting),'' Locker said. ``I have to go out there and prove in the next couple of days that I am worthy of that.''

No he doesn't.

Ask Willingham what he still needs to see from the former Ferndale, Wash., High School prep football and baseball phenom and the coach shakes his head sideways.

``I already know,'' Willingham said.

He knows Locker's natural leadership, his command of the offense and his teammates, his flowing throwing motion and dynamic speed could have made him the starter late last season, after 2006 senior Isaiah Stanback was lost for the year with a foot injury against Oregon State.

But Willingham wanted four full seasons with Locker starting, to ride his expected star as long as possible. So he refused to succumb to the temptation of burning Locker's redshirt season - even during a six-game losing streak that cost the Huskies the bowl bid they still covet on their long road back to relevance.

The first of those four full seasons began Monday.

``It's clear he knows more about the offense than he did last year,'' when Locker ran the scout team until November, Willingham said after the first practice.

While at Notre Dame, Willingham recruited quarterback Brady Quinn, who's about to become a multimillionaire top pick in this month's NFL draft. He doesn't advertise it, but Willingham thinks Locker is as gifted a passer as Quinn. And one day showed Locker is a much better runner.

He's so fast, the Washington offense may be adding more running plays for Locker than it had for Stanback. And Stanback was a 100-meter sprinter on the Huskies track team who just missed qualifying for the national championships as a senior.

``You can't dispute what Dan said - he's got wheels,'' Willingham said.

As of Monday, Locker's also got the Huskies' fortunes for the next four years. So bring on Syracuse. Then Boise State, Ohio State, UCLA and Southern California _ and that's just to start next season.

``I have confidence in my abilities,'' Locker said. ``I believe if you don't, you shouldn't be here.''

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