Washington quarterback Jake Locker has decided not to enter the NFL draft next spring.
With two simple words Monday — “I’m staying” — Jake Locker changed the course of Washington’s football future.
Locker, UW’s junior quarterback, made that statement around 11 a.m. Monday to coach Steve Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, not only settling the issue that loomed over UW’s offseason more quickly than anyone anticipated, but also setting off a raucous celebration in Husky Nation.
Now, the optimism surrounding the five-game improvement in Sarkisian’s first year can continue unabated with Locker back.
He was projected as among the top picks in the NFL draft had he decided to come out — earlier Monday, the first mock draft by ESPN’s Todd McShay had Locker as the No. 1 overall pick.
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But Locker, who recently turned 21, decided he wanted to finish the rebuilding of UW’s football program while also continuing to groom himself for a solid long-term NFL future.
“After a great deal of careful thought and deliberation, I have decided to return to Washington and play my senior year,” Locker said in a statement released by the university. “I am very excited about this team’s opportunities and potential for the upcoming season and I am looking forward to being a part of it.”
Locker was accompanied by his chocolate lab — appropriately named Ten — when he told the coaches.
“I just thought he was going to shoot the breeze,” said Sarkisian, who hadn’t been aware Locker was so close to making a decision. Instead, Locker told the coaches he was staying, Sarkisian soon joking to UW athletic director Scott Woodward that “this is the first time in history I’ve ever signed a 10-star recruit. Forget four- or five-star recruits. We got a 10-star recruit today.”
Sarkisian added that upon hearing the news that he and Nussmeier “gave a pretty good high-five and a hug.”
Sarkisian said he didn’t put any hard sell on Locker, instead simply supplying him with as much information as he could. That included the fact that quarterbacks who leave early tend to have shorter NFL careers than those who finish their college careers.
The way the season ended also was as factor, as UW won its last two games against Washington State and California by a combined 72-10 score. Locker completed 35 of 51 passes for 444 yards and four touchdowns against one interception in those games, while rushing for 171 yards on 24 carries, his most consistent running of the year.
Sarkisian said Washington’s success in the final two games of the season, wins over Washington State and California, as well as the style of play, helped sway Locker.
“That painted a picture for him of where we are headed and what we are capable of getting done,” Sarkisian said.
The UW coach said that, ultimately, Locker simply wanted to spend another year in college.
“He made it clear to me this decision was not about money but what he wants out of his life,” Sarkisian said.
Still, Locker had said following the season finale against Cal on Dec. 5 that he would consider all options, and a week ago Monday he applied to be evaluated by the NFL Advisory Committee, which supplies underclassmen with an estimate of where they will be drafted.
But he decided not to wait for that input — the committee hasn’t even begun to return evaluations — before making his choice to stay.
Sarkisian said Locker will take out an insurance policy to guard against an injury his senior season.
Sarkisian said he doesn’t think waiting for the evaluation would have changed anything, saying it would have been consistent with other projections and Locker already had all the info he needed.
“Whether he was going to be the first, 10th or 15th pick in the draft I think to some degree wasn’t as relevant as what he might be able to accomplish the rest of his time here,” Sarkisian said.
Locker made the decision over the weekend after spending time with his family in Ferndale.
“He really had a chance to spend the last 48 hours or so really assessing it and looking at it with all the information that he had without any distractions,” Sarkisian said. “That’s why he was able to make the decision and feel good about it.”
Locker began informing teammates and others around the program of his decision at midmorning — sending out a mass text — and in Locker’s typically understated fashion, he eschewed a news conference, simply having the school send out a release announcing his decision.
Locker was not available for comment Monday, saying he wanted to wait until after finals and the holidays to speak to the media.
Woodward said the school will prepare a Heisman Trophy campaign for Locker, who will enter the 2010 season as one of the top contenders for the award. Sarkisian said he has discussed that with Locker, who tends generally to shy away from media attention. But Sarkisian said Locker understands going through a season with such a spotlight will further ready him for what awaits in the NFL.
“I think that’s part of the process of preparing yourself so that you’re not overwhelmed when you get to the NFL,” Sarkisian said.
While Locker improved this season, many observers consider him a raw prospect who needs as much seasoning as possible in a prostyle offense, something UW switched to under Sarkisian.
Sarkisian said Monday he will set a goal for Locker to complete 62 to 63 percent of his passes next year — he completed 58.4 percent this season — and have a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 3-1 — he had 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2009.
It’s the third time Locker has spurned a chance for a big payday to play quarterback for the Huskies.
Locker also turned down chances to play pro baseball out of high school and again last summer that likely would have paid him millions. He did sign a contract with the Angels last summer after the club took him in the 10th round, paying him a reported $300,000. But that was done largely to give the Angels his rights for six years should he decide he wants to play baseball. He has no plans to do so anytime soon.
With Locker back, the Huskies will be projected as having a chance at a winning season for the first time since 2002. The excitement of UW fans was evident as the school received roughly 65 deposits for 2010 season tickets within hours of the announcement.
Washington will return all but two of its offensive starters for next season, losing only fullback Paul Homer and lineman Ben Ossai.
Sarkisian said he will welcome high expectations, saying, “I love our football team,” and that the play of the past few weeks showed what kind of team the Huskies can be next season.
“I think it continues the momentum of where we’re heading in this process of rebuilding this historic program,” he said. “I think Jake feels he has some unfinished work here at the University of Washington. I don’t think he would have done this if he didn’t believe this football program is heading in the right direction and that we can accomplish great things next fall.”
Nussmeier says no
It was a good day all around the UW football offices as it was also learned that Nussmeier decided not to pursue a possible head-coaching position at San Jose State to stay in his current role as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Washington.
San Jose State apparently wanted Nussmeier, who last year was offensive coordinator at WAC rival Fresno State, to come to campus for an in-person interview. The school is searching for a replacement for Dick Tomey, who retired this season.
“He was contacted and spoke to San Jose State,” Woodward said. “He and their AD spoke for an hour and Doug has decided not to become a candidate. He likes the situation here and thinks it’s a great and better opportunity for he and his family to stay here.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.