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Tuesday, May 2, 2006 - Page updated at 02:09 PM


Jake Locker is a quarterback with options

Special to The Seattle Times

FERNDALE — Jake Locker sits on a couch in his family's house, relaxing after a midseason baseball game.

"At school, I'm no different than any other kid," said Locker, 17. "I'm just another senior at the school."

He then leans back in his seat and kicks his Nikes up on the coffee table, inches away from the latest copy of SchoolSports Magazine, a national publication that just happens to have Locker on its April cover.

The fact is, Locker is different than every other kid at Ferndale High School. Yes, he is as down to earth as any kid who passes through Ferndale's halls. And yes, he still hangs out with the same friends he did in second grade, the ones who can still embarrass him — Parade All-American honors be damned — by telling a story about an awkward first date. But whether he likes it or not, Locker is different. He's a freakishly gifted athlete who will soon choose between his Washington football scholarship and a career in professional baseball.

At a time when most 17-year-olds are worrying about finals, summer plans and who to take to the prom, Locker will be making a choice that affects not only him and his family, but a struggling Huskies football team and its fans, some of whom have already dubbed Locker as the program's savior.

"It's going to be a tough decision," said the 6-foot-3, 215-pound quarterback, The Seattle Times' State Player of the Year in football. "But I really can't go wrong on any decision that I make, so I'm feeling pretty comfortable with it. I feel lucky to get to make this decision."

The presence of scouts this spring has made Locker think more seriously about baseball, but talk to him long enough and his passion for football comes through.

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"I definitely am still leaning toward football as much as I was before," said Locker. "That's not to say that I'm closing anything out either, but football's still my first love and that's what my plan is right now."

Jesse Young, Locker's catcher and one of his best friends, thinks Locker will play football.

"He committed to Washington and Jake's a man of his word," said Young. "He's a loyal guy and he has a passion for football."

Adds Rocki Sandusky, another of Locker's closest friends: "He's not one to tell you something and not follow through on it."

As Sandusky's voice trails off, Young smiles, then states the obvious.

"A couple million or play football at the UW? I wouldn't mind making that decision."

The biggest threat to Washington coach Tyrone Willingham's 2006 recruiting class isn't USC's Pete Carroll or Oregon's Mike Bellotti, it's a middle-aged man in khaki pants, a black jacket and a baseball cap, carrying a Jugs gun, a notebook and the promise of millions. The scouts are at nearly every game this spring to see Locker.

Amazingly, all the pressure and attention seem to have little effect on Locker.

"It's quite impressive that a 17-year-old kid can be that grounded," said Ferndale baseball coach Sean Linville. "It would be pretty easy for him to get pretty big for his britches. A lot of 17-year-olds aren't mature enough to handle all of this. There's no resentment at all with his teammates because he handles it all so well and includes them. You get a guy this talented in this small of a pond, and he can overpower the whole pond, but Jake doesn't do that."

In football, Locker's athleticism made him one of the nation's top high-school quarterbacks. He passed for 1,603 yards and 27 touchdowns with only three interceptions, numbers made more impressive by the fact that he averaged fewer than nine passing attempts in Ferndale's wing-T offense. Locker also had 1,338 yards and 24 touchdowns on 127 carries, helping the Golden Eagles to a 14-0 record and a Class 3A state title. If not for his skills at quarterback, Locker would have been a Division I football recruit as a safety.

On the baseball diamond, Locker is so talented that scouts are still deciding whether to draft him as an outfielder or a pitcher. A five-tool center fielder, he is hitting .600 as Ferndale's leadoff hitter with three home runs and 32 runs scored in 15 games. He has stolen 17 bases without getting caught.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.40 earned-run average and 50 strikeouts in 39 innings. Locker, who consistently throws 91 to 93 mph and has been clocked as high as 96, has struggled with his control, walking 19 and hitting six batters.

At a recent game, one National League organization sent its director of amateur scouting, in addition to the usual local scout, a telltale sign the team is serious about Locker.

Locker is hardly the first high-school athlete to face this decision. In fact, he's far from being the first Washington quarterback recruit to consider baseball.

In 2000, a Cascade of Everett senior named Grady Sizemore was being touted as the successor to Marques Tuiasosopo at Washington. He was a big, fast kid with a bright future in football until the Expos offered him $2 million to sign with them.

Sizemore is now the starting center fielder and a budding star for the Cleveland Indians, and before the start of this season signed a six-year, $23.45 million contract extension.

Four years later, it was Matt Tuiasosopo who chose baseball over UW, signing with the Mariners after they offered a $2.29 million signing bonus, a record for a third-round draft pick.

"I would just tell him to follow his heart and his family," said Tuiasosopo, when asked about Locker. "I would just like to see him play whatever he wants, whatever he loves to do. He's a great athlete. If he goes to play at UW, I know he's going to bring UW back. If he chooses baseball, I wouldn't be surprised if I saw him in a couple of years."

Another baseball player with football ties is Joe Borchard, who spent the first part of the season with the Mariners before being sent down to Class AAA Tacoma. Borchard played quarterback and baseball for Stanford before leaving at the end of his junior year. Borchard was in line to take over the starting job the next year, but when the White Sox offered him a then-record signing bonus of $5.3 million, he couldn't say no.

Borchard, who played under Willingham at Stanford, represents another option for Locker: Go to college and play both sports. Although Locker has said he would take at least a year away from baseball to focus on learning the offense if his choice is football, Willingham has said he would be happy to see Locker in a baseball uniform, as long as it's purple and gold.

"If he asked me for advice, I'd tell him that if you're going to play two sports in college, there's not a better guy to play for than coach Willingham," said Borchard. "Everyone's situation is different, but for me, I knew I wanted to go to college, play both, then see which sport was for me."

While Locker stands to get rich in a hurry if he chooses baseball, he insists the decision will not be about the number of zeros in the offer.

"I'm still giving it all for my team right now, then once the season is over I'll make that decision," he said. "I'm pretty sure once it's over I'll know one way or the other. I'm not going to wait around to make a decision. If it's going to be football, I'm not going to lead the baseball guys on just to see where I'd get drafted. I don't want them to waste a pick on me.

"The money isn't the thing that I'd be lured by. It's just whether that's what I want to do after high school. That's what my decision is going to be."

The next great Huskies quarterback or instant riches? Locker knows how good he has it. Before deciding on all of that, however, he has a few more weeks to just be a normal high-school kid.

"I'm just trying to have as much fun as I can with the rest of my senior year, just like everyone else," he says, feet still resting next to that magazine cover. The one with two Jake Lockers on its cover, one in a baseball uniform, the other in football pads.

Just another high-school kid.

Correspondent Mason Kelley contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company



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