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Originally published April 28, 2011 at 5:49 PM | Page modified April 29, 2011 at 4:57 PM

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Steve Kelley

Who's second-guessing Jake Locker now? Huskies QB drafted No. 8

Former Washington quarterback Jake Locker was selected by the Tennessee Titans with the No. 8 pick in the NFL draft. "I never had the doubts other people had," he says.

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Thanks for sticking around for your senior year Jake, now go light it up in the NFL. Read more
quotes Good for you Jake. You earned it and deserve it. Read more
quotes Congrats Jake!!! You'll do Husky Nation proud. Couldn't be happier for you! Read more

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FERNDALE — Better than anyone, Jake Locker knew what he needed, knew what he wanted, knew what he had to do with his future.

When so many around him were telling him he should leave, Locker stayed at Washington for one last season. He understood that this was his decision and only his decision.

And Thursday his maturity was rewarded.

At 5:45 p.m., as the crowd at Cedar's Lounge hushed and watched on the big-screen television, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that, with the eighth pick in the draft, the Tennessee Titans had chosen Washington quarterback Jake Locker.

The packed house erupted. Locker had become the first Washington quarterback chosen in the first round. And, most important, he had done it his way.

"As we stand here today you feel pretty good about the mature decision that he made," Ferndale football coach Jamie Plenkovich said in the lobby of the school gym. "And I think, in the long run, it's going to continue to pay off for him. He's shown all the way along that he's mature beyond his years. He's his own man, for sure."

Locker no longer has to justify his decision.

Now, after all the chatter and the second-guessing, he knows where he's going. And, although I'm sure he doesn't believe he needs validation, he got it in spades from the Titans.

"I know what I'm capable of and I always have," Locker said after the announcement, sitting in front of a table in an empty gym at Ferndale High. "I'll believe in that forever, no matter what anybody says. And I think that's what Tennessee sees in me.

"I never had the doubts other people had. I knew what I was capable of and was confident in myself. So to be able to see somebody else have that same confidence means a lot to you. It's a dream come true. It's something I've thought about since I was a young kid and now to live it out, it's rewarding."

Locker never looked at his time at Washington as an NFL audition. He wasn't playing football for the money. He wasn't living in one season, while planning for the next.

He came to Washington hoping he could turn around a foundering program. He stayed in school because that's what made him happy. How does that decision look now?

"I figured he'd make the best decision for him, whatever that decision was," said Ferndale athletic director Vic Randall, who was the football coach during Locker's freshman season. "I didn't think money, per se, would be the factor, because he's more driven toward excellence than dollars."

In the final accounting, Locker won. He helped Washington to an upset win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. And Locker won again. He was picked ahead of every quarterback in the land not named Cam Newton.

"It's great when you make a decision and then it goes as it does," Locker said. "It reinforces the decision you made."

Sure he remains a project. Every quarterback in every draft is a gamble. Locker still has to improve his accuracy and he has to prove he can master every page of an NFL playbook.

He will be a work in progress, but with patience, he can be an NFL quarterback for a long time. Think Mark Brunell with a stronger arm.

And Tennessee appears to be a perfect fit for him. With one of the best running backs in the game, Chris Johnson, behind him and a good line in front of him, Locker won't be asked to carry more of the offensive load than he is capable of handling.

"I'm not going to change any of how I do it," said Locker, who was wearing a white Titans T-shirt his father gave him just before Thursday's news conference. "I'm going to play it the same way. But now I get more time to watch film, get more time to work on the little aspects of the game that make you that much better a player. That's something I look forward to."

Locker is as genuine as gold.

During his predraft training, Locker stayed with his agent, Camron Hahn. Last week, a package was delivered to the Hahns' Louisville home. Hahn figured Locker had sent him some football jerseys.

Instead, Locker sent Easter baskets for Hahn's two boys.

That's Jake Locker.

Outside his high-school gym, maybe 100 of the townsfolk waited for his arrival. Locker was escorted by a Ferndale police car and when he got out of his car, his neighbors cheered and chanted his name.

"He's a very loved kid in this community," said Laurie Maassen, a bartender at Cedar's.

Late Thursday night, Locker was to take a red eye to Nashville, where he will do a bigger news conference in front of many more people Friday.

And as he settles into his seat for that long, night flight, he can take a moment to feel proud of himself.

He took no short cuts. He broke no promises. He survived all the turmoil of his five seasons at Washington, and he fulfilled his dream.

All of us can learn something from Jake Locker.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

NFL draft stars from UW and WSU
Jake Locker, selected No. 8 overall by Tennessee, is the first Washington quarterback drafted in the first round. Only five players from Washington or Washington State have been selected earlier than Locker, who is the 12th Husky or Cougar to be drafted in the top 10 since World War II:
Pick Player School Pos Year NFL team
1 Drew Bledsoe WSU QB 1993 New England
1 Steve Emtman UW DT 1992 Indianapolis
2 Ryan Leaf WSU QB 1998 San Diego
3 Jack Thompson WSU QB 1979 Cincinnati
7 Reggie Rogers UW DT 1987 Detroit
8 Jake Locker UW QB 2011 Tennessee
8 Ron Holmes UW DE 1985 Tampa Bay
9 Reggie Williams UW WR 2004 Jacksonville
9 Lincoln Kennedy UW OT 1993 Atlanta
9 Doug Martin UW DT 1980 Minnesota
9 Clancy Williams WSU RB 1965 Los Angeles Rams
9 Hugh McElhenny UW RB 1952 San Francisco

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