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Originally published December 5, 2009 at 8:11 PM | Page modified December 7, 2009 at 3:31 PM

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Steve Kelley

Will Jake Locker stay or go?

Conventional wisdom says he should leave. But Locker hasn't done things conventionally.

Seattle Times staff columnist

On the first pass of what might have been his last college football game, Jake Locker faked a handoff to Chris Polk, dropped into the pocket and threw a 40-yard-thing-of-beauty touchdown to Jermaine Kearse, who had gotten behind the California secondary.

That one play, that perfect pass, is exactly the reason hundreds of thousands of Huskies fans want Locker to return for one more season in 2010 and exactly the reason certain NFL teams will be willing to offer him millions of dollars to leave.

Imagine 12 or 13 more games with Locker as a Husky. Imagine Locker with one more season in coach Steve Sarkisian's quarterback-friendly system.

Imagine another season of Locker throwing to Kearse, with whom he has developed a sixth-sense rapport, another season of Locker helping young wide receiver James Johnson develop, another season of Locker finding Devin Aguilar over the middle, another season of the Polk-Locker daily-double running game.

In Saturday's last game of the season, a 42-10 win over California, Locker almost looked ready for Sundays.

In the first quarter alone, he hit Kearse on a 28-yard wheel route, a 17-yard out-route and a fourth-and-five, 12-yard post. Every spiral was tight and accurate as a laser beam.

Locker was all-purpose offense. No wonder the NFL scouting services have him predicted to be the first or second quarterback taken in the draft. Locker is the best combo quarterback in college football. Better than Florida's Tim Tebow.

In the second quarter against Cal, Locker faked a pass, tucked the football, broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and ran for a 19-yard touchdown.

"One more year! One more year! One more year!" the Husky Stadium fans begged.

But will Locker bow down to their demands?

Conventional wisdom says he should leave. Take the money before the NFL institutes a rookie salary cap. Go for the dough before he breaks a leg or rips up a knee ligament.

But Locker hasn't done things conventionally. He told major-league baseball teams not to draft him out of high school, because he absolutely was going to play football at Washington.

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Now, he already has the mini-security of a baseball deal with the Los Angeles Angels that will pay him about $300,000. And he has a ton of leftover business at Washington.

A winning season, for instance. A bowl game that has yet to be played.

Locker came to Washington wanting to add his name to a long list of Washington quarterbacks — Bob Schloredt, Warren Moon, Steve Pelluer, Mark Brunell, Damon and Brock Huard, Cary Conklin, Billy Joe Hobert, Hugh Millen, Cody Pickett, Tom Flick and Marques Tuiasosopo — who have taken the Huskies to the postseason.

If Locker returns, he can be remembered as one of the leaders of the purple and gold renaissance. His legacy can be the Huskies' return to prominence.

But if he leaves, he will become an instant millionaire and he'll get a year's head start on the difficult process of learning to play his position professionally.

This last game of his junior season almost looked like an NFL audition. Locker threw all the passes, made all of the plays. He beat Cal with his arm, his legs and his head.

He dropped a soft, 25-yard touch-pass to tight end Kavario Middleton in the middle of the field, then ran for 9 yards on the next play. He engineered touchdown drives of 75, 34, 81, 65, 51 and 41 yards.

Locker was so good on this season's final frosty night, he made it feel like one heck of a going-away party. He gave all of us something to talk about. He completed 19 of 23 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 77 yards and two scores.

In the first drive of the second half, he followed an 8-yard first-down run with a lovely pump-and-go, 21-yard scoring pass to Aguilar. Later, he outguessed Cal's blitz and connected on a 13-yard touchdown pass to Aguilar.

Locker, with all of his skill-position players returning, with his offensive line more secure, with one more season of seasoning, could win a Heisman next season. He is that good, and next season he will be that ready.

But if this was his last game, it was a stylish exit. Jake Locker gave us everything on his playlist, all of his hits. And at the end of the night, the fans had only one final request.

"One more year! One more year!"

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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