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December 2, 2010When Jake Locker addressed the media this week, he seemed as giddy as a school boy who had just stepped outside for recess.
He couldn't hide his excitement over the opportunity at hand this Saturday when the University of Washington takes on Washington State for the Apple Cup in Pullman.
This is, after all, the whole reason he came back to Washington for his senior year rather than embrace the lavish lifestyle of a millionaire NFL quarterback.
He wanted a shot to experience a bowl game with his closest friends. And this Saturday in Pullman, he's getting his shot to snatch that dream.
"Obviously, it's been a goal of ours since the beginning of the season, and something I believe is every team's goal going into the year, to be able to play an extra game on their schedule," Locker said. "I think it would mean a lot to this program, a lot this team and a lot to the players on it."
Especially, No. 10.
Locker came to Washington a decorated quarterback prospect out of Ferndale with high hopes to turn the Huskies' program around.
But events didn't unfold the way he envisioned and last December he was left with a decision to leave early for the NFL or return his senior for a final shot at the team's first bowl experience since 2002.
"He turned down millions of dollars and a luxurious lifestyle in the NFL to come back and be with his brothers," junior linebacker Cort Dennison said. "That just shows you the kind of kid Jake Locker is. He's going to put others before himself. That's one of the things I admire so much about him. I have so much respect for Jake and what he's done. To come back and have the opportunity we have this week, and probably one of the biggest games of his life, I couldn't ask for a better person to lead us than Jake."
What's only strengthened players' respect and admiration for Locker is that he's playing with a broken rib.
The injury has limited Locker physically and led to declining statistics and dipping NFL Draft stock.
But it hasn't affected his teammates' confidence in him.
"Trust me Jake does all he can to win games for us," Dennison said. "I guarantee every other kid on our team would say that."
After missing the Oregon game with the cracked rib, Locker returned to helped lead the Huskies (5-6) over must wins over UCLA and California to put them in position of needing a victory in the Apple Cup to become bowl eligible.
The rival Washington State Cougars are what stand in their way.
WSU lost to Washington, 30-0, in Seattle last year but won the previous two Apple Cups.
"This is why you play college football is for games like this," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "So for Jake and some of these other seniors to have this opportunity, something they haven't had in their career, I'm excited for them."
But there are some mixed feelings in the Locker family.
Jake isn't the only Locker playing in the Apple Cup. His cousin, Casey Locker, is a backup free safety on the Cougars' roster.
"It'll be a friendly rivalry I guess among the family," Jake Locker said. "I'm sure they'll have their Cougar stuff on. My parents and everybody will have their Husky stuff on. I'm sure they'll talk some smack this week and get each other all riled up, but at the end of the day we are family. We'll probably be hanging around afterwards together no matter how the outcome is."
Locker didn't figure his cousin would let up on his ribs if he has a shot to hit him.
"I'm sure he'll try to hit me harder than he tries to hit anybody else," he said.