UW Football | Locker unfazed by expectations
Seattle Times staff reporter
Asked last week about his newly shaven head, Washington quarterback Jake Locker shrugged it off as some mere spring cleaning.
But Locker does little without purpose, and this was no different.
After some prompting, Locker revealed Monday that he had shaved his head to show support for Chelsea Ebert, a Ferndale High School freshman and a family friend who is battling cancer.
According to the Bellingham Herald, more than 300 people showed up at the high school when Ebert, undergoing chemotherapy treatments at Children's Hospital in Seattle, decided to have her head shaved on April 7 and donate the clippings to Locks of Love — a non-profit organization that provides hair for children with long-term medical hair loss.
About 50 decided to shave their heads along with Ebert, including Locker and his father, Scott.
"It was just kind of a special day to see how much support there is within that community," said Locker, a Ferndale graduate.
Such acts only add to the burgeoning legend of Locker, who also made news in March when he spent an hour and a half with a young boy battling a brain tumor who had requested to meet his hero.
"The mere fact that he shaved his head is in a sense a major statement, but a small statement in terms of how he lives his life because he's been doing that for some time," Willingham said.
The acts also support the contention of UW coaches that Locker is mature beyond his years. And they believe that will help him deal with the exceedingly high expectations coming his way.
Locker was named Washington's No. 1 quarterback entering spring ball by Willingham, who in his first two years as Huskies coach had been more cautious about naming starting quarterbacks.
"The sky is the limit for him, potentially — I think everybody understands that," said Huskies offensive coordinator Tim Lappano. "The reason I think he is going to handle all the hype, all the pressure, is because he's going to focus on the right things, and that's really important.
"There have been a lot of kids like him who have all the talent but never panned out because they didn't focus on the right things and focused on all the media hype. Jake could care less about that kind of stuff."
What Locker was most concerned with Monday, from a football standpoint, was sharpening up his passes. He was still lamenting a few missed throws in Saturday's scrimmage, including a third-down slant to Anthony Russo that he said on review might have gone for a long touchdown. The offense didn't score other than in two goal-line situations.
"Obviously, I wasn't as accurate as I needed to be," Locker said.
Days when Locker struggles a bit reinforce to the coaches that they did the right thing last season in redshirting him.
Locker admitted Monday he asked Willingham to put him in the Stanford game, the second-to-last of the 2006 season, after Carl Bonnell and Johnny DuRocher were injured. But coaches say by that point, there wasn't much of a decision to make.
"I just don't think he had enough handle on the offense and had enough reps at it," Lappano said. "He wanted to do it, but we didn't feel good about it. I told his dad when we recruited him that we wouldn't put him in a tough situation and throw him to the wolves, so to speak. But when it came down to the Stanford game, two games left, it's not worth it."
Locker, however, prepared for the last five games as if he might have to play, running Washington's offense in practice instead of the scout team, which coaches say is paying off now in greater understanding of the playbook. Locker admits he had a lot to learn coming from Ferndale's single-wing offense.
"I think he's got a good understanding of what we are doing now," Lappano said. "I think fundamentally he's pretty solid. The things that are showing up right now are the lack of experience. He's done some really good things out there and done some things that's all because he hasn't played a lot.
"I'm happy where he's at right now, but there are just those little things that experience will help him with. But better now than against Syracuse [in the Aug. 31 season opener]. We're trying to give him a lot of [defensive] looks and a lot of pressure trying to get him ready for the things that people are going to do against us early in the season."
Locker's shaved head, however, is a reminder that he understands real pressure isn't necessarily found on a football field. He visited Ebert on Sunday and marveled that she was the one telling the jokes.
"She's tough," he said. "She's a fighter. I know it's going to work out good for her."
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