The It Factor

May 1, 2007

By Justin Chartrey
The Daily

What is 'it'?

Coaches rave about it, scouts drool over it and players need it to succeed at the next level. Yet 'it' has never been clearly defined.

However, in the context of one of the most well-known new faces of the Husky football team, Jake Locker, the 'it' label has already been assigned.

Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano, in an early interview this spring, started it when he said, 'Whatever `it' is, [Jake] has it.'

Ask Locker about the term and he will say that he has no idea what it is. But people see it in him.

'I don't know what it is,' senior quarterback Carl Bonnell said. 'I guess part of having `it' is going out and knowing what to do and being confident with it. People see a lot of great things in him, and I see a lot in him.'

That may be the greatest aspect of having the 'it' factor: a sense of humility as well as confidence. Bonnell also said he is impressed with Jake's will to compete and how much he works at playing football.

In his first season, Locker sat on the sidelines, waiting for a chance, but ultimately using his redshirt. During that season, the freshman declined all interviews in order to keep the focus on the team. Later this spring, Locker was finally on display for everyone to see. The hype began and the expectations were raised, rightfully so.

Coach Tyrone Willingham was so impressed with his prized recruit that he named Locker the starting quarterback at the outset of spring camp.

So, how does an 18-year-old deal with unbelievable hype?

'Eleven guys play the game,' Locker said. 'Ultimately, that's how you win games; no one guy can do it.'

Combining this team philosophy with his awareness that no job is safe has helped him temper the excitement, which has swirled around him since he signed with Washington in 2005.

Back then, there was a different kind of decision facing Locker. Between his junior and senior seasons at Ferndale High School, Locker verbally committed to Washington.

'It was a decision that I wanted to make when I was ready,' he said. 'Right before my senior season started, I called coach [Willingham] and told him that I was coming to Washington.'

At the time, it was Willingham's biggest recruiting victory of his short stay as the coach of the Huskies. Locker was the 3A state player of the year in Washington, as well as a Parade Magazine and EA Sports First Team All-American. He would be bringing to the table a senior year in which he threw for 1,603 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushed for 1,338 yards and 24 touchdowns. He ultimately won a state title for Ferndale.

Yet, there was no shortage of worry for a fan base that had been burned twice before by commits who chose instead the instant professional route of Major League Baseball.

In 2003, it was Matt Tuiasosopo who spurned the quarterback position, which made his brother Marques a Husky legend, to play ball for the Seattle Mariners. Before him, Grady Sizemore did the same and now makes millions manning centerfield for the Cleveland Indians.

For good reason, there was also a fear that Locker would do the same. As a senior, he was named 3A state player of the year as a pitcher and outfielder for Ferndale, and he had a great chance of getting picked in the next MLB amateur draft.

The time came and went, and, to the collective relief of Husky nation, Locker was enrolled come the fall. He said, though, the question wasn't big in his mind. He knew that he wanted to play football -- he just had to figure out where.

During his redshirt season, Locker was able to acclimate himself to the college life and become a part of the Husky tradition.

'It's going really well,' he said. 'I'm enjoying it down here.'

To help balance the class schedule and the football schedule, Jake started to find ways to keep himself loose. For him, that mostly means relaxing with friends.

He has also learned a lot about being a teammate. According to some, like center Juan Garcia, Locker is already showing great leadership, while to others, like Bonnell, he is proving to be a character in the locker room.

'I'm around him a lot to know that he's kind of a goofy guy,' Bonnell said. 'He approaches life with a different kind of mentality.'

Locker also utilizes his closer support system: his family.

'It's nice how close [the school] is to home,' he said. 'It's very comfortable, and I also go home whenever I get a chance. My family has always been very supportive.'

There is another support system Locker falls back on, one that he says is the greatest force in his life: his faith in God.

'I have a very strong faith,' he said. 'I look to God with all my problems, and that's who guides my life.'

What is 'it'?

The short answer for Locker is all in his actions. In the short span of a year, he has moved from a redshirt reserve to one of the loftiest positions in college football -- the starting quarterback. He has become a commanding force in the locker room, has strong backing from friends and family and has already made a name for himself in the Seattle area. Now others are taking notice.

'I really love the combination of the guy who can be a leader in the community, a leader in the classroom and a leader on the football field,' Willingham said. 'That, to me, is what it should all be about, and he embodies that.'

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