ON A MONDAY MORNING LAST DECEMBER, JUST AS FINALS WERE BEGINNING, Washington junior quarterback Jake Locker picked up his cellphone and dialed his coach. "Hey, are you up in the office?" Locker asked. "I've got something I want to talk to you about." ¶ First-year head coach Steve Sarkisian was having a cup of coffee with his offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, when Locker arrived with his chocolate lab, Ten (Jake's number), by his side. "You know, Coach, I'm staying," Locker said in his matter-of-fact manner.
"You mean you're staying next year?" Sarkisian asked, stunned that Locker, who had a month to declare for the NFL draft, had already made a decision.
"Yeah, I'm staying."
"He walked out the door," recalls Sarkisian with a laugh, "and Coach Nussmeier and I started high-fiving and jumping up and down with each other."
Locker had spent the weekend at home with his family in Ferndale, Wash., a small (pop. 11,000) town 15 minutes from the Canadian border, weighing the pros and cons of the paths he could choose. He finally took a drive through the country with his father, Scott, in Scott's old King Cab Chevy pickup. "Honestly, I think he knew in his heart his decision before he came here and talked to us," says Scott. "He knew he wanted to finish what he started."
Locker had arrived in Seattle in 2006 fresh off a state Class 3A championship with Ferndale High. A righthanded pitcher, he had just been selected in the 40th round of the Major League Baseball draft, by the Angels, but had declined to sign, electing to focus on football. He redshirted his first season on campus, earned Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors in '07 (he threw for 2,062 yards and rushed for 986), then sat out the final eight games of an 0-12 disaster the following season after breaking the thumb on his throwing hand.
In '09 Locker showed marked improvement during his first year in Sarkisian's pro-style offense, completing 58.3% of his passes for 2,800 yards and rushing for nearly 400. Now he's on everybody's list of 2010 Heisman candidates. "The progression he's made in 18 months has been pretty amazing," says Sarkisian. "From A to Z, from a fundamentals standpoint, he's really developed." But the teacher does have more he wants his pupil to accomplish. "We really need to see the touchdown-interception ratio go from 2 to 1, where he's sitting right now, to 3 to 1," says Sarkisian. "And I'd like to see him at about a 65 to 68 percent completion percentage."
Aside from the challenge of trying to lead the program to its first winning season since 2002, Locker, primarily a shotgun quarterback before Sarkisian took over, relishes the opportunity to spend one more year taking snaps under center and working on his footwork and timing. He says he hasn't regretted his December decision for a minute. (Locker took out an insurance policy on which he could collect should he suffer a career-ending injury at Washington.) And if things don't work out in the NFL, there's still baseball: He was drafted again by the Angels in '09, in the 10th round, and signed a contract worth approximately $250,000 that gives the organization his rights for six years.
"I looked at it from a standpoint of what decision I wouldn't regret in 20 or 30 years," he says. "I knew at some point I'd kick myself for not going back and seeing how this season played itself out."