Lockett, a third-round draft pick, has been a rookie revelation for the Seahawks this season. But the biggest surprise to those who know him isn’t how quickly he’s caught on at receiver or his two touchdowns as a returner.
There is a commonality to how people talk about Tyler Lockett — his work ethic, grace under pressure, kindness — that ends with the same concession: “Sorry, I bet you’ve heard this before.”
True enough. But Lockett proves to be an inverse of those half-apologies: The more you look, the more interesting he becomes.
Here are seven things to know about the Seahawks’ breakout rookie receiver and returner.
1. He has never danced for more than two seconds after a touchdown.
Pull up the videos, and take a look. When Tyler Lockett scores a touchdown — and already he has scored twice in his first three games with the Seahawks — he dances. But when he dances, he doesn’t linger or waste time. He drops the ball, dances, moves on. High-five someone and you’ll miss it.
He warned friends before the season, “I’m going to bring the old-school stuff back.” He did the Chicken Noodle Soup in the preseason, the heel-toe in St. Louis and Swag Surfed against the Bears, all of which classify as old school for a 23-year-old.
Predictably, his friends busted on him. “We’re surprised he’s dancing,” says Dante Barnett, his best friend since the fifth grade, “because he can’t dance.”
After one performance, his dad informed him that he danced for all of two seconds.
“I didn’t want to get a penalty,” Tyler explained. “I didn’t want to get a flag.”
This version of Tyler Lockett, this dancing-in-front-of-everyone version, is something even his oldest friends and family admit is new. His dad sees it as Tyler slowly peeking his head out from his shell, looking around at a new world and wondering, “Is that too much? Oh, I can do more?”
Lockett, a third-round draft pick, has been a rookie revelation for the Seahawks this season. But the biggest surprise to those who know him isn’t how quickly he’s caught on at receiver or his two touchdowns as a returner. It’s his dancing.
“I can tell you one thing,” says Aaron Lockett, Tyler’s uncle. “You never in a million years could have paid us enough money to think that he would dance after a touchdown. That’s how I know he’s comfortable in his own skin.”
2. He grew up in the shadow of his last name.
He could have gone anywhere else, and his last name wouldn’t have mattered. It would have been nothing more than a footnote in his bio: Tyler’s dad, Kevin, and his uncle, Aaron, were record-setting receivers at Kansas State.
But instead he ran into the eye of the storm and chose to attend the same college where his dad and uncle played. That says something about him, doesn’t it?
The records are a nice place to start: Kevin Lockett, Tyler’s dad, was the all-time leading receiver at Kansas State. Aaron Lockett, Tyler’s uncle, was one of the most dangerous returners the school has seen.
But records don’t account for the full power of nostalgia. Kansas State was laughably bad at football, one of the worst programs in the country, when coach Bill Snyder took over in 1988. So when Kevin and Aaron helped lift Kansas State from the gutters in the 1990s, they achieved the status of legends.
Tyler had a handful of scholarship offers in high school but grew up running the halls of Kansas State’s football facility. It felt right to go there, like home, but his dad warned him.
“Great football town, great city, great school,” Kevin told him. “But you also have to understand that you can’t erase this. This is what happened before you. This is what you’re walking into.”
He was only a three-star recruit, but the first time he ran onto the field, fans cheered like he had scored a touchdown. He wanted to redshirt but was too good in practice. Fans called him Baby Lockett, and he constantly was compared with his dad as a receiver and his uncle as a returner.
“They kind of looked at me like I was going to be a super hero,” he says.
You never in a million years could have paid us enough money to think that he would dance after a touchdown.” - Aaron Lockett, Tyler's uncle
He played for the same legendary coach as his dad and uncle. He studied in a learning center named after his family. During a national TV broadcast, Brent Musberger referred to him as “Tyler Lockett of the famous Lockett family.” His dorm room had his name on the door, and students excitedly asked Barnett, his roommate, if he was Tyler Lockett.
“Then he would come out,” Barnett says, “and nobody would ask him because he didn’t look like he played football.”
He worried what fans thought of him. His coaches saw him pressing, trying to outrun his shadow. It got so bad that at one point during his freshman year, he thought about leaving. “Get me away from the legacy,” he said.
But in the sixth game that season, he returned a kickoff for a touchdown. In the next game, he returned another kickoff for a touchdown and had 100 yards receiving for the first time.
His dad texted pictures of the school’s leaderboard and told him, “Look who’s up there.” He complimented him on a great game but pointed out that he and Aaron had better ones.
“I knew he had this fire inside of him,” Kevin says.
Tyler didn’t leave. He became a legend.
3. He is deeply religious, and his family worried about that before the draft.
For two months leading up to the NFL draft, Kevin prayed for his son to end up in the “right” environment — the kind of team that had enough guys who shared Tyler’s lifestyle and beliefs.
“I was concerned,” Kevin says. “I didn’t want him to be in one of those locker rooms where the entire locker room was different and he was this outcast that didn’t fit in. I knew it wouldn’t necessarily shake his faith, but any time you put yourself in the fire, at some point you’re going to get scorched.”
Tyler looks like he could still get carded at bars. Friends say he can be shy, quiet and timid. Michael Smith, one of his former coaches at Kansas State, said Tyler used to bring notecards with Scripture written on them into meetings.
“I don’t want to sound soft,” Smith says, “but he’s just a sweet kid.”
In the wrong environment, Kevin worried that Tyler would develop a distaste for the NFL, that he wouldn’t have fun and because of that, wouldn’t fulfill his potential.
On the second day of the draft, the phone rang. All the caller ID said was Washington. “I thought it was the (NFL team in D.C.),” Kevin says. “For about 15 seconds, I’m thinking, ‘That’s not a good fit.’ ”
It turned out the call was from Seattle and Seahawks general manager John Schneider. The Seahawks thought so much of Lockett that they had uncharacteristically traded up to draft him in the third round. They declared him their starting returner from Day 1 — a whole new set of expectations — and coach Pete Carroll said he has been surprised by how much Tyler has played at receiver.
But on the night of the draft, Kevin Lockett just exhaled: the right fit.
4. Do not interfere with his routine.
Interviews with players are done in the locker room before practice, but catching Lockett was like trying to catch a ghost. He walked in, grabbed his jersey and was gone.
Finally, after a couple days of fruitless stalking, he was cornered at his locker and politely agreed to talk — but only after practice, citing his pre-practice routine. He spends so much time catching punts or passes before and after practice that Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse reminded him recently that it’s a long season.
“If you throw him off what he normally does, he gets a little frustrated,” says Aaron Lockett. “He wants to do it his way, and he has a ritual.”
I don't want to sound soft, but he's just a sweet kid.” - Michael Smith, a former coach of Lockett at KSU
In college, that became a minor issue at bowl games, when each minute of the week is accounted for. In high school, other players would talk with friends and take their time getting to practice. But Tyler always was the first one in the locker room, and he was dressed by the time everyone else showed up.
“We would all just say: ‘Why?’ ” Barnett says. “But that’s him.”
5. He is endlessly curious.
“He’s a ‘Why?’ person,” his dad says. “He’s got this musical and artistic side to him.”
He bought not one but two guitars at a bowl game. He went through a gospel rap phase in high school. “Man, that was a tough time,” Barnett says. “He’ll tell you: He knew his mother loved him because she supported him even though she knew he wasn’t any good.”
He loves poetry and writes it on his phone. He doesn’t like public speaking but performed at a Tulsa poetry competition and at the student union in college.
“His poetry can really explain him,” Barnett says. “Poetry can be soft-spoken and calm, but it can mean so much. Looking at him, he’s a little, quiet guy. But on the field he explodes, and he doesn’t really show emotion. These touchdown dances really show his personality. You look at it, and it’s almost like it’s not Tyler.”
He became interested in the piano, so he bought one. He learned “All of Me” by John Legend. Then he picked up a song by Alicia Keys. Then he started singing. Then he asked one of his best friends, Jordan James, to record him playing the piano and singing.
“It’s just like, ‘Why?’ ” James says. “But that describes him. He ain’t going to give up, and he doesn’t care what anybody is going to say. He told me to record it knowing darn well that he sounds horrible.”
For proof, James pulls out the video from April, and though it is hard to hear him through his laughter, he says, “He’s so serious. … That’s not the song at all. … Alicia would be disappointed.”
6. His closest friends poke fun at him in a way that all close friends should. It is unpretentious and refreshing.
It does not take any effort to get the embarrassing stories flowing. It’s like they’ve been dammed up for years, and only now that Tyler is a blossoming star can they be revealed for the public good.
“I’ll tell you about the time we were playing PlayStation 2 in middle school,” Barnett says. “It had a little fan in the back, and it was running hot. The game was messed up, and he decided — I don’t know why I let him do this because I knew what was going to happen — but he decided to pour water on the fan. The PlayStation 2 was done.”
James: “In college, he was baking brownies. He took a whisk, and he thought it was an electric blender. I look over there, and he’s just twisting the whisk like it’s supposed to blend it. It’s a brownie mix so it’s just getting thicker and thicker. I was like, ‘Just go sit down, man.’ ”
Barnett: “He loved to make biscuits. You know how you have to unwrap the biscuits and it pops? I hate the pop. To this day, I get (startled). But he was looking for a can opener in the house just to open some biscuits. This probably explains why he used to be so quiet.”
Tyler does not deny the charges but says, “I’m about to tell you so many stories about them. Dante almost burnt up our kitchen because he made Hamburger Helper but fell asleep. Jordan threw himself down the stairs because people said, ‘Go throw yourself down the stairs,’ and he literally leaned and threw himself down the stairs. You can put: Jordan, who threw himself down the stairs, said this about Tyler. And Dante, who almost burnt up the house cooking, said this about Tyler.”
7. His touchdown dances are an extension of an evolving personality.
His body language was bad in college. “It just didn’t look good,” says Andre Coleman, his position coach his final two seasons.
Teammates looked to him. So did fans. Coleman told him he had to get better.
He has always played under great pressure. First it was because of his last name and expectations, but over time it was more about his own standard, his internal pressure.
He took football seriously, worked hard and improved each year. But sometimes he didn’t look like he was having fun.
Coleman laughs. Now? Night and day. He’s thinking specifically about the dancing. “He’s having fun,” he says, and it’s a thought repeated by everyone who talked about Tyler.
The word Tyler uses: free. He didn’t know anyone in Seattle. He had to find his own apartment and meet his own friends and cook his own food. But there’s a freedom that emerges from that uncertainty, and he has not only embraced it, but also enjoyed it.
“What you’re really starting to see is who Tyler Lockett is,” Aaron says. “He doesn’t have any parameters or filters. He is getting the opportunity to be his own man.”
He’ll even show you, if you keep your eyes on him after he scores a touchdown. Just don’t blink.
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