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Originally published Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 8:00 PM

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Finding the meaning of Washington's Jake Locker

His numbers and talent were prodigious, but as Washington quarterback Jake Locker finishes his career, there's far more to his legacy.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Jake Locker bio

Height: 6 feet 3

Weight: 230 pounds

High school: Ferndale. He led the Golden Eagles to a 37-4 record and a state championship in three years as the starting quarterback.

College: He leaves Washington trailing only Cody Pickett in passing yards (7,639), attempts (1,147), completions (619) and touchdowns (53). He's first in rushing yards by a quarterback (1,939).

Baseball: Selected twice in the major-league draft and signed a six-year deal with the L.A. Angels.

Personal: Engaged to ex-UW softball player Lauren Greer.

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Leave it to others to debate Jake Locker's football career at Washington.

To question whether he fulfilled the expectations that greeted his arrival in 2006.

To wonder if he made the right move by returning for his senior season.

To Locker, there is nothing to discuss.

He always insisted he'd made the right choice to come to Washington five years ago as the pride of Ferndale, the hometown boy who stayed home. He said he'd never regret the choice to stay with the Huskies when the NFL beckoned last winter.

Those feelings were only reinforced in 2010 as an unlikely senior season unfolded, threatening to collapse with crushing losses and a debilitating rib injury, before a remarkable finish ended with hugs and tears in San Diego.

"It's been some frustrating years," Locker said Thursday night in the wake of maybe his biggest moment, the 19-7 win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl that was the final game of his UW career. "But to go out this way, to see this program off this way, this is the experience I came back for."

The victory over Nebraska allowed him to say he had accomplished his biggest goal — to turn the Huskies again into winners.

Washington was in the throes of a devastating two-year stretch, going 3-19, when Locker arrived and vowed to get the program back on track.

The road was longer than he'd imagined, with some unexpected potholes along the way. The breakthrough finally arrived as Locker led Washington to wins in his last four games as a quarterback to give Washington its first winning season since 2002.

"For him to experience this moment is why we coach," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said after the Holiday Bowl.

When the gun sounded in San Diego, the question of whether Locker could lead a winning program was quieted for good. The Huskies were 9-5 in the last 14 games he started, a streak that came in the wake of an 0-12 season in 2008, when he missed eight games due to injury.

Locker was the ultimate Huskies hero, a local boy who was big and strong and fast and talented. And his name is sprinkled throughout the UW record book like few others.

He leaves Washington trailing only Cody Pickett in passing yards (7,639), attempts (1,147), completions (619) and touchdowns (53). He's first in rushing yards by a quarterback (1,939).

But Locker's career was never about numbers. What Locker came back for — and what will forever resonate most about his career — were the memorable moments.

• The drive to beat USC in 2009, setting off one of the wildest celebrations in Husky Stadium history.

• The drive to beat USC in 2010 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, just Washington's third win there in 30 years.

• The drives to put away California and Washington State in the final minute and clinch the Huskies' first bowl game since 2002.

• The times he took off running, a sight that always generated a rush of expectation through the crowd at Husky Stadium like little else in recent years.

• The on-field postgame embraces with the other members of his family from Ferndale. Those hugs, particularly with his father, Scott, proved touching convergences of two of his most cherished possessions — family and football.

Obviously, there were disappointments. A Heisman Trophy campaign that fizzled in 2010. Games that got away late in 2009 and cost Locker a chance at another bowl. Injuries that too often stunted the progress of Locker and the Huskies.

But none of that mattered in San Diego on Thursday night as Locker bathed in a Holiday Bowl victory that felt like the rebirth of Huskies football.

And maybe, just maybe, it was.

"It's just great to be a part of it," Locker said. "I wouldn't want to play with anyone else in the country."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

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