University of Washington

Locker had every right to be silent

Given the diversity of postgame entertainment options these days, the phrase has fallen into disuse, but football coaches once praised remarkable effort from certain players by saying: "He didn’t leave anything for the dance."

Saturday, in a wet and weepy, soul-crushing defeat at Notre Dame, Washington quarterback Jake Locker clearly had nothing left for the press.

Uncharacteristically – as a player who has more than fulfilled his obligations as the face of the Huskies franchise even through the darkest days – Locker shunned the mikes and cameras after the 37-30 overtime loss.

If anybody has earned a reprieve from having to deliver heart-sore rhetoric, it’s Locker, who has been carrying the program on his shoulders for three years. Monday, he sat in as always, and explained his silence.

“It was a thing where I felt I wasn’t in the best emotional state to answer questions at that point,” he said. “I didn’t want to say something I’d regret. … I felt like it was in my best interests, our team’s best interests, to kind of give myself a little time to cool down.”

Great team leaders, especially quarterbacks, love being put in the position to win games. And when it doesn’t happen, they feel specifically accountable.

When the Huskies failed to score a touchdown on 10 plays inside the Irish 2, Locker internalized the frustration.

“I felt bad for our guys, for our coaches,” Locker said. “When you put that much effort into something, it’s hard not to come out with the outcome you’d like. … It was difficult after the game, I won’t lie to you.”

Coach Steve Sarkisian stood in full support of Locker’s play and his postgame reticence.

“I thought Jake played a really competitive ballgame; he gave us an opportunity to win the game,” Sarkisian said. “As always, there’s plays at the quarterback position he’d love to have back – the sack in overtime – that’s football; those are learning experiences he’ll grow from. He’s a tremendous competitor; he’s a guy who battles and wills us and leads us, and his teammates respect him for that.”

Fact is, nobody wants to do interviews after a game like that. The wounds are too fresh and raw. Tackles and safeties can slip out with impunity. But the quarterback? A guy like Locker? No, his evasion turns into a story.

“This guy has been speaking to the media for three years in the worst of times,” Sarkisian said. “In the hardest of times, he’s stood tall … he’s a man about everything. After this game, he was emotional. He had a big part in the game, felt like we could have won the game. I don’t blame him for not wanting to talk. When you’re emotional, sometimes you might say some things you will regret later, and some things are better left unsaid. I felt like this guy deserves a mulligan on this. He’s faced every question imaginable; he deserved this night off.”

Absolutely, Locker’s earned that.

Remember, he’s 21 years old. Since his freshman year, he’s been in the position of being a spokesman for the team.

Imagine having to deal with the losses, the frustration – heck, the physical pain – and then being expected to somehow explain it all to the media. He was still a teenager when he was being asked to put perspective on Washington’s ignominious tumble from the nation’s elite.

And he’s handled it remarkably well. My favorite bit of Locker lore came the week of Apple Cup 2007. Locker had suffered a frightening neck injury at Oregon State and his status had Huskies fans breathless.We were told he’d be ready for the Washington State game, but when he showed up for the Monday press conference, he walked in so stiff it was as if his head was bolted to his neck.

The first question, of course, was how in the world could he play when he could barely turn his head. Locker gave in to laughter and twisted his head from side to side.

“I was just jokin’ with you,” he said.

It was priceless. He’s shown since then that he’s all class, a winner, and a terrific ambassador for that program. And after the kidney punch that was the overtime loss on Saturday, the kid deserved a little quiet time.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440