Washington quarterback Jake Locker handles East Coast publicity tour with usual modesty.
If you followed any of ESPN’s six zillion media properties Monday, you could surmise three things about a sports world of fleeting obsessions.
1. LeBron James has a conspirator in his narcissism.
2. The World Cup is the biggest thing since, well, LeBron.
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3. No doubt by the divine generosity of LeBron, Jake Locker was allowed enough ESPN pub to show that he, too, is a star worthy of engrossment.
Thanks, LeBron. Now King James, please go pick out which palm leaves you’d like the Miami Heat to use to fan you during free agency.
Meanwhile, Locker is probably somewhere shrugging.
He’s the hot new prospect — the caliente quarterback — but the Washington star won’t get drunk on the hype. If it were up to him, he wouldn’t be on the East Coast this week, running through a two-day ESPN media tour to bring attention to his Heisman Trophy campaign and the anticipated revival of the Huskies. Even if he winds up as the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, Locker figures to maintain that refreshing, boyish ambivalence toward his celebrity.
In that way, Locker is an unintentional charmer. Just by being himself — a little shy, a little guarded, nervously intent on saying the right thing — he makes himself a different brand of intriguing star. Nothing ever distracts you from how talented an athlete he is. It normally doesn’t work this way, but with Locker, the less he says, the more respect he acquires. It’s because he’s not going out of his way to be a mysterious, clichéd athlete. He’s just a nice kid who would rather prove himself on the field.
On a grand media stage for the first time, Locker kicked off a year of hype in his typical manner Monday. He wore a Huskies polo shirt and jeans, sported a fresh haircut and spoke about team over self.
Over the next year, he will be the poster child for staying in school. He revealed on “ESPN First Take” that he’s 14 credits away from a history degree and will graduate before the NFL draft. As he nervously rubbed his hands together and used the verbal filler “um” repeatedly, you couldn’t help but see him for what he is — genuine and likable.
Throughout the day, as Locker made appearances on various ESPN television and radio shows and answered questions on an ESPN.com live chat, he represented himself and the university well. Expect the same Tuesday when he concludes his whirlwind swing through New York City and Bristol, Conn.
The nation is starting to learn what we already know about Locker.
Fans living in the Northwest complain, rightfully so, about a lack of national media attention. Instead of allowing that to happen with Locker, the Huskies made a wise decision to do this ESPN tour. With Locker this week and with coach Steve Sarkisian promoting the program every chance he gets, Washington has been more relevant (and for the right reasons) this offseason than it has been in some time.
It’s June, and ESPN is talking about the Huskies in the middle of the World Cup and the LeBron-apalooza. If the Huskies can follow it up with a successful 2010 season, just imagine the possibilities for recruiting and marketing.
Of course, there is a risk to such hype. If UW flops, if Locker fails to live up to his billing, they will be ridiculed for tricking the public with bluster and false hope. But for a program that hasn’t been to a bowl in eight years, a confident approach is better than recoiling at the thought of success.
“Being able to do things like this, it’s a first time for me,” Locker said on “First Take” on Monday. “To come over to the East Coast and experience not only these opportunities, but the things around the city and everything, it’s fun. It’s exciting. And I think that’s how you have to look at it. You have to enjoy it. It’s an opportunity you get in life, and you’ve got to make the best of it.”
It sounds like Locker is still convincing himself to revel in the spotlight. He’s just the kid from Ferndale who runs too fast and throws too hard to be ignored. Now, he’s starting to grasp that he just might be a big deal for the next 15 years or so.
As long as he stays modest, this sports world of transient interest won’t tire of him easily.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org