Category Archives: Commentary

Commentary: Jake Awaits Imminent Culmination of Football Dream

Comments Off
Filed under Commentary
Tagged as , , ,

It has been 5 long collegiate seasons leading up to this moment, a stint that saw 2 different head coaches, ambitious schedules against stiff opponents and various physical setbacks. The road undoubtedly hasn’t been easy, and for Jake’s last 5 years it never went as scripted, either. The years of his college career was a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, an exhibit of perseverance, faith and character.

That ride ended the way it should have: on a Holiday Bowl high note. The loyal Senior deserved to taste the peak of success, and it was fitting that he was able to experience an impressive winning streak at the end of his last season along with sweet redemption in the biggest game of his college career. The storybook ending was tailor made for the determined leader who never waned in his approach or in his confidence.

Since that brisk December evening in San Diego, Jake has been front and center in every sports publication across the nation and a topic of every pundit and proclaimed expert from print, radio and t.v. There have been special articles worthy of a clip and save as well as t.v. productions that have provided a glimpse of who Jake Locker the person really is. Without question, Jake has been one of the most talked about pro prospects over the last 4 months. 

From the Senior Bowl to the Combine and from his Pro-day to a myriad of individual team workouts, there have been countless interviews, evaluations and auditions. All of it has been a journey to today, the start of the 2011 NFL Draft. As most people would have wilted under such a glaring light, Jake has embraced it with the same appreciative and positive attitude that has carried him throughout the last half-decade.

“It’s been fun, a dream come true and an opportunity. I’m lucky I get to experience it,” Jake has simply stated.

The over-analyzed portions of draft previews are soon to be just a memory and the dream of becoming a professional quarterback in the NFL will start to come into focus–a realization that could be as soon as tonight if he is taken in the first round. Regardless of what happens during the draft one thing is for sure: the winding path to today has brought a great opportunity, a well deserved and promising new beginning of what will likely be a bright NFL future.

The Return of “Montlake Jake”

Comments Off
Filed under Commentary
Tagged as , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SPORT-FOOTBALL/

Athleticism. Leadership. Grit. The list of attributes that Jake Locker possesses is lengthy, which is the main reason that everyone from the fans to the media expected him to throw the Huskies on his back and carry them back to prominence when he pledged to the University of Washington out of high school.

Tabbed the starter prior to the 2007 after a red-shirt year, Jake knew that he had to catch on quickly with the schedule that the Huskies had on tap. And, when asked how he felt about being dubbed the “savior” of UW Football, he was realistic. “I might fulfill expectations, I might not,” Locker told the Seattle times in an article published the eve of his first game. “Nobody knows at this point. So I’m just going to go out and do as well as I can and play as hard as I can, and I don’t think there’s anything else I can do. I can’t worry about the expectations that others have for me.”

His first start was at Syracuse, a Thursday night game featured on ESPN, and the spotlight was on the redshirt freshman quarterback from Ferndale. The quarterback did not disappoint as Locker made good reads, good throws, and exhilarating runs on his way to 14 of 19 passing for 142 yards, and had 10 carries for 83 yards with 2 touchdowns. It was a story book beginning for a player and team hungry to compete for a Pac-10 championship.

9 days later, the first home game of his career against #22 Boise State was a chance to treat the home fans to a victory, and Locker delivered with an impressive encore performance: 13 for 25 for 193 yards and a t.d., along with 84 yards and a t.d. on the ground on the way to a decisive victory over a solid bowl-worthy team. With every play in that game, including one where Locker took a group of defenders into the end-zone, the legacy and expectations of #10 continued to grow.

Optimism couldn’t have reached a higher point than after the first half of the following game, a contest against national powerhouse and #10 ranked Ohio State. The Huskies held their own against the Buckeyes in the first half, and went into the locker room with a 7-3 lead. Husky nation, at that point in time, reminisced about the last time a high-ranked team came into the stadium and left with a loss. It had felt like decades since the game in 2000 when the Huskies upset a Miami team, then #4 in the nation and stocked full of 17 future NFL first round draft picks, 34-29, but at this point anything felt possible.

It was as if Husky Football was back….and then, in an instant, it was gone. Although Locker still impressed as he looked faster than the NFL-caliber players on the OSU defense, he and the Huskies fell apart in the second half in what would be a theme for the rest of the season. 2 costly interceptions and countless missed assignments led to being outscored 30-7 in the last 30 minutes en route to a deflating 33-14 loss.

But, it should be noted that the freshman quarterback still had 102 yards rushing on 14 carries and passed for 153 yards and a touchdown against a very formidable opponent. The outlook was still bright for most, as 2-1 after 3 challenging games was nothing to fret about and, after all, the quarterback looked more mature than his years on a team where 37% of the players were seniors.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go as Husky fans had hoped. The Huskies proceeded to lose another 5 games in a row, falling to 2-6 for the season. A close 3-point loss to #1 USC, along with frustrating second half collapses against Oregon, Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA torpedoed the once-promising season. Although Locker continued to put up gaudy numbers, including a 336 yard passing/157 yard rushing/4 touchdown performance in a loss to Arizona, the team couldn’t catch a break.

Following a feel-good victory against Stanford, the freshman leader suffered a scary neck injury after a controversial hit during a game vs. Oregon State. Locker was taken off the field in an ambulance, and with him went any chance to salvage a lost season. Luckily, he was okay and returned to the field in a neck brace later, but he would miss the following game and then would fight through the rest of a season that would see more near-wins and harrowing losses.

2008 was supposed to be the return of Locker and the Huskies. And, although having a sophomore quarterback that had been through a full season was reason to hold out hope, it was a youthful team that lacked game experience in key areas. And, Locker would need to acquaint himself with a wide receiving group full of freshman and one returning player, and would need to find his way without 6th year senior and starting center Juan Garcia, who did not return until the 3rd game of the season.

Amidst all of the challenges that come with getting a team to gel in a short period of time, a severe hamstring injury knocked Locker out of fall camp. But, he was not going to let anyone make a big deal out of his injury and maintained his excitement for the season, a season that everyone knew would come down to his success and leadership.

As he took the field less than 100%, the first game saw the quarterback struggle. Without his typical speed and without a lot of time to bond with the new freshman receivers, the Husky offense could not get on track. After the loss to Oregon on the road a controversial defeat against BYU followed, a game that saw the flash of Jake’s brilliance as he willed them to what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown. It was a disappointing loss that got people from coast to coast talking, but discussing the poorly officiated ending was no consolation for a team thirsty for a victory. jake-locker31

Less than 2 games later, Locker’s already challenging season was cut short after he broke his hand throwing a block. Always the consummate teammate and leader, the cruel twist of fate was fitting if not only for the reason he suffered his injury doing what most quarterbacks don’t do: block for their teammates.

As we look to next season, the Huskies aren’t even a blip on the radar of most. They open their season with a nationally televised night game against perennial powerhouse LSU, a game they are expected to lose. They bring in a losing streak of regrettable proportions. And they feature a quarterback that, outside of the West Coast, has been largely forgotten because of his abrupt departure last season.

Through the 2-year journey, Jake has seen not only what it feels like to quickly climb the peaks of success, but also how it feels to endure frustrating injuries and painful losses. This year may be a perfect opportunity, however. He will be able to approach a season with relative calm, a season where there will be optimism but few expectations. It will be with a team that lacks a large group of seniors but one that is packed full of potential. And even though there will be a gauntlet of tests on the schedule, it will provide great opportunities to recapture what has been recently been lost: in Locker’s words, we will once again see ”a more inspired football team.”

It could be said after the last 2 years (15 total games) that it would appear Locker is star-crossed or unlucky. Whatever conclusions are made, there is an old saying that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” If that is the case, the talented Mr. Locker may be stronger than ever, and with a healthy group of more experienced teammates and a coach known for developing quarterbacks, fans of college football should take notice: ”Montlake Jake” will be back.

More on the athletic quarterback & the NFL

Comments Off
Filed under Commentary
Tagged as , , , , , , ,

We talked about a popular topic in an entry a few days ago regarding athletic quarterbacks going to the NFL and trying to get the NFL scouts to think outside of traditional pocket passer prospects.

USA Today features this topic and Pat White, former West Virginia quarterback and now future member of the Miami Dolphins.

Also, many other articles on this subject such as one detailing how college offenses are making it difficult for some scouts to evaluate talent, as well as how  it is even impacting other player evaluations such as offensive lineman.

As college offenses continue to evolve, chances are NFL systems will as well. A prime example is how the Miami Dolphins released the Wildcat formation last year and it caught on through the season with many other teams. Once NFL teams start adopting creative offensive schemes much like college teams have adopted, they will have the personnel available every year in the draft. But, until they do, there will be a power struggle between NFL scouts insisting it negatively affects the results of their evaluations, and the college coaches that insist their innovative offenses positively affects the results of their games.

Breaking the Trend: Athletic QB’s and the NFL

Comments Off
Filed under Commentary
Tagged as , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wide Receiver or Cornerback? It’s the question that most NFL scouts debate when attempting to categorize an ahtletically gifted collegiate quarterback with the size, speed, and strength to play multiple positions. They look at the successes of Antwaan Randle El and Ronald Curry at the pro level–both former college qb’s. They see Matt Jones from Arkansas as well as Brad Smith from Missouri get moved to wide receiver in recent years as well. The “experts” even believe that it is the destiny for Pat White, West Virginia’s talented multi-faceted and successful quarterback who is anxiously awaiting his name to be called during tomorrow’s NFL draft.

If it is hard to grasp, all you have to do is look at recent Husky quarterback Isaiah Stanback, a speedy and strong athlete with a rocket arm, who got drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and was immediately switched to Wide Receiver.

“I’m just looking to play”, Stanback told DallasCowboys.com in a recent interview. “That’s all. I want to play and contribute and help the team win.”

Most college quarterbacks do just that: accept a different position to fit in the NFL’s proverbial box, a move to keep their pro-football career going forward. And then there are the exceptions, such as former Nebraska quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, who always fought for his right to play quarterback and decided to quit when his dream to play qb at the highest level wasn’t embraced by any of the NFL franchises.

As the spread-option becomes a favorite offensive system for many schools, athletic quarterbacks will become the norm and if the NFL continues to embrace their position switching philosophy, you will see a lot of great wide receivers that can throw the ball……and some quarterbacks who start only because of the NFL’s tunnel vision tradition of looking for the next greatest drop back passer.

Guys like Jake Locker and Tim Tebow will make an effort to buck recent history and be successful pro quarterbacks in the coming years. Ian Peterson of the BleacherReport.com poses the question about Locker’s NFL future in his article posted today. Peterson highlights his observation of Locker’s improvement with accuracy, arguably his biggest goal other than learning the new offensive philosophies, and states that he believes with the right guidance Locker has a good chance to make it to the NFL as a quarterback.

Eventually, NFL teams will realize that having a quarterback with mobility and speed is the future of the game, and the teams that find the best ways to utlize their talents will have the most sucess. And although it is an exciting thought to watch Jake on Sundays, do remember he is only a mid-Sophomore game experience wise.  Before the NFL becomes a realistic discussion, Husky nation will get to watch him develop for the next 2 years on Saturdays–an opportunity to witness the progression of a player with a bright future.

The $4m Question: Should The Apple Cup Be Moved to Qwest?

Comments Off
Filed under Commentary
Tagged as , , , , , , , , , , ,

A move for the annual Washington vs Washington State Apple Cup to Seattle’s Qwest Field could be forthcoming starting in 2010, according to multiple reports. The change to the ‘neutral’ site is being discussed to help increase the pay outs to each school for the annual contest. Currently, the teams receive an $800,000 pay out, but if there is a 6 year agreement signed with First & Goal (the operating entity of Qwest Field), the payout would increase to $2 million for each school, a very hard proposal to pass on considering the current economic conditions.

Through upgraded seat packages, suites, and other revenue generating activities, the pay-out for a Qwest Field held game can generate far more revenue than either college stadium…..especially because the stadium can accommodate almost double what WSU’s Martin Stadium can currently hold for a Football Game. Bob Condotta  of the Seattle times does a great job of figuring how the revenue will increase here.

There are many with passionate feelings on the subject, so lets objectively look at everyone’s perspective when debating such a change.

PLAYERS

For most players, you can ask them how they feel about it and they are probably impartial.  

For Cougar players, it is probably a little more of a sacrifice since a bitter-cold December game in Pullman is quite an edge for the home team. And, let’s face it: Seattle is the home of the University of Washington.

On the flip side, Seattle is a lot more convenient for many alums and player families to travel to for the game, with a far more appealing city to find lodging, restaurants, and other activities. Additionally, there are a lot of Cougar faithfuls that reside in Western Washington and are probably more likely to attend the game that is close to their home. It can be guaranteed that there will be more than the normal 20% Crimson and Gray contingent that fills Husky Stadium every other year sitting in the stands at Qwest Field come Apple Cup Saturday, and although the travel would make it feel like an away game every year, the stadium environment would act to the contrary.

For Husky players, the sacrifice would be more minimal than the Cougs. Sure, Husky stadium is a great advantage in December, and the stadium can hold more fans than Qwest. But, they get to stay in Seattle every year and can count it as a 1/2 home game in the years they would have had to go to Pullman. When all is said and done, if you asked the players that if they could be guaranteed every season to not have to travel to Pullman, the reasonable guess would be that no tears would be shed.

“Whatever they decide what’s best for us, we’ve just have to take that, and have as much fun with it as we can,” Jake tells the Bellingham Herald, something he echoes in the Seattle Times. “Whatever they decide is best for us, we’ve got to take that and have as much fun with it as we can. Qwest Field is a great stadium, and it would be fun to go over there and have the excitement of being in a big-time stadium.”

FANS

This is the shaky equation in this prospective change of venue for the Apple Cup. According to a poll in the Seattle Times, only roughly 30% think it is a good move.

When it comes to College Football Fans, the atmosphere is almost everything. Suite boxes aren’t necessary, comfort is overrated, and no one really cares if there is gourmet food available at the concessions line. This is all about our team vs yours, and it has always been fair that each team play on their opponents field every other year…..often when a Bowl Berth is on the line. If you bleed Purple and Gold or Crimson and Gray, the majority of these fans will emphatically state the same thing: Bad Idea.

But look at it from an objective point of view if you can, fans. Neutral field says it all: may the best team win. Sure, there will be more of an even distribution of fans throughout the stadium, which could increase the extra-cirricular activities in the stands. And without a doubt, hosting a game every other year and having family and friends join your tailgate to mingle with the out-of-towners from over the mountains is a priceless experience.

But, what if, Cougar fans, you could get your hands on as many tickets as Husky fans and have a better chance to not be shut out of Husky stadium when the game is for all the marbles? And Husky fans, how would you like to be able to have the Apple Cup in your back yard every single year?

It works with Texas vs. Oklahoma, the “Red River Shoot Out” at the Cotton Bowl in Texas every year–an event that gets larger with time and for a pay out that nets $850,000 to each team…much less than is being offered for the Apple Cup schools. Georgia and Florida meet in Jacksonville every year for the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party”, which also becomes a larger event year over year. Colorado and Colorado State have moved their rivalry game to the Bronco’s Invesco Field, and Missouri plays Kansas every year at Arrow Head stadium in Kansas City.

In the end, passion drives this debate and the fans could be the ones that care most….and unfortunately may have the least amount of input.

ATHLETIC DEPARTMENTS

From a revenue standpoint in such a dreary time of budget deficits and increased job cuts, a $1.2 million dollar injection of cash into the Athletic Department is a big deal. Athletic Departments primary goal is to treat the program much like a business–increase revenue anyway they can and stay in the black.

For Washington State, the operating Athletic Budget is smaller than the University of Washington, and by over doubling the game revenue the offer in itself has to be appealing. And, as mentioned above, there are some of the most influential WSU alumni that reside in the city of Seattle, which could mean a lot of local support to the Athletic Department making this change. The counter argument is the hole in the home schedule for students and WSU’s faithful–without marquee draws through the non-conference schedule, the Apple Cup IS the draw on the home schedule most of the time.

For the University of Washington, the venue change could mean even more. First off, it could be a live test to see how well it will work if UW is successful in the funding of a renovated Husky stadium, a result that would make Qwest Field a temporary home for the Huskies. But more importantly, and directly related, is trying to generate as much money as possible to help that necessary end goal: Fix Husky Stadium. The travel cost for the team would obviously be saved by moving it to Qwest (compared to the Pullman travel), and the event could also increase tourism revenue at the same time…..helping the greater good of the sagging Seattle economy.

SUMMARY

Whatever the side of the fence you are on, it is a very difficult decision. What may need to happen is a trial run–a shorter 2-year contract–to see how everyone feels afterwards before signing a long-term agreement. With Washington State being successful in hosting a game at Qwest Field a couple of times recently, the Apple Cup may be a success there too. Just don’t try and put it to a vote of the fans.