Jake Locker and Jimmy Clausen entered college football on the same charter flight a first-class ride to high expectations.
And then they were dropped off Locker at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Clausen at the holy shrine of the sport, the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
As freshmen, they were not only expected to contribute immediately, they were supposed to be the faces of optimism for storied programs that had fallen on hard times. They were the ones brought in to lead them back.
Something about 2009 has not only brought them back together the Huskies and Fighting Irish kick off Saturday in a nationally televised game its gotten them on the same page.
Notre Dame is 3-1, on a two-game winning streak after a pair of come-from-behind victories. Another win, and the Irish could return to the Top 25.
The Huskies are 2-2, having already been ranked No. 24 after their 16-13 upset over then-No. 3 Southern California two weeks ago.
When you anoint someone the second coming Heres the program, now go take us to it that can be a lot of pressure, UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. That can be a lot of pressure. It doesnt matter where these kids come from or what they do. At the end of the day when theyre playing as freshmen, when theyre 18-, 19-year-old kids its a lot of pressure, especially when you put a lot on them from a schematic standpoint.
It takes time to grow. It takes time to learn. Youve got to learn from mistakes. I think theyve both done that. Jimmys done that, and I think Jakes doing that.
Clausen was the more touted product out of high school. He came from the quarterback factory at Oaks Christian in Westlake Village, Calif. the school where UW recruit Nick Montana currently starts.
At Oaks Christian, Clausen never lost as a starter, going 42-0.
And by the second game of the 2007 season at Notre Dame, he was starting for coach Charlie Weis. The Irish lost their first five games, worst start in school history, and ended up going 3-9.
Last season, the team went 7-6, but suffered a 24-23 loss at Syracuse the first time Notre Dame had ever lost to an opponent with eight losses.
When I first came in, I was just trying to fit in and be one of the guys. I just wanted to get out there and do everything I could to help the team win, Clausen said. Obviously, I was very young and naive and thought I could come in here and make plays like I did in high school. But its just not the same.
But lately, Clausen seems to have taken a big jump in his career. Coincidentally, its his third season with Irish quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus, a former Notre Dame signal-caller.
Now in my career, Im just to the point where I know things I can do, cant do and how to handle myself in different situations, Clausen said. Coach Powlus has done a great job of talking to me about different things, different issues that hes gone through in the past that he doesnt want me to go through, or he wants me to learn from.
Locker, who won a Class 3A state championship at Ferndale High, also knows about losing early. As a redshirt freshman in 2007, he directed UWs 4-7 season. He was 0-4 last season before suffering a season-ending thumb injury against Stanford. The Huskies finished 0-12.
But now, unlike Clausen, Locker is with his second coaching staff. The benefit this season of working with two former quarterbacks Sarkisian, who coached quarterbacks at USC, and former Idaho standout Doug Nussmeier has been obvious. After four games, Locker leads the Pacific-10 Conference in passing (250.5 yards per game).
Clausen and Locker know each other well. They met at the Air 7 Passing Camp two years ago in Santa Barbara, Calif., and roomed together last summer at the same venue.
Me and Jake are real good buddies, Clausen said.
And they know a thing or two together and separately about the pressure of high expectations.
Ive been asked that since the day I got here, Locker said. The pressure, I guess you want to call it, from people outside the program, I never really paid attention to that. Ive tried to block it out because Ive set standards for myself. I never felt like it was all on me to turn this program around. The game is played with 11 guys on the field at a time. If it was meant for one guy to change it, wed play with one guy on the field.
Sarkisian said linebacker E.J. Savannah (foot) and receiver Devin Aguilar (knee) will be game-time situations, although neither practiced Thursday before the team left for Indiana. I want to see them move around at full speed. If theyre not capable of playing, I dont want to play them, Sarkisian said. Reserve offensive tackle Nick Scott (ankle), injured on Wednesday, practiced with the No. 2 offense Thursday. Cornerback Desmond Trufant (calf) had his left leg wrapped but practiced. He will start his second consecutive game. Quinton Richardson (leg) limped off the field late in practice after a kickoff coverage drill with an apparent high ankle sprain to his right foot. He winced on every step to the tunnel. Sarkisian called it a little tweak. UW is taking 76 players to Notre Dame 12 more than allowed for Pac-10 road games.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442