Wherever Jake Locker goes when he is away from college football, his companion is “Ten,” his Labrador retriever.
So it was Monday that Locker and Ten were walking down the hallway outside the University of Washington coach’s office, even as coach Steve Sarkisian was about to make the most important announcement since he was hired last year.
Locker had decided to take a walk – away from the millions of dollars he was likely to be paid as a consensus top-10 selection in the 2010 NFL draft – and return to UW for his senior season.
Huskies supporters rejoiced. Sarkisian gave one of his assistants a high-five and a hug. The return of Locker very well could mean the program’s rebound not only into bowl contention, but into the conversation for a Pacific-10 Conference championship next season.
“Well, obviously we got some great news today,” Sarkisian said.
Locker, armed with research on all the important points involved in the decision, retreated Friday to his family’s house in Ferndale to consider his options.
“He really had a chance in the last 48 hours or so to really assess (the decision) without distractions,” Sarkisian said.
On Monday, into Sarkisian’s office walked Locker and his dog – unannounced. The first-year coach figured his quarterback wanted to exchange small talk, or had a question or two about the NFL application process.
Instead, the junior sat down, and blurted out his intentions.
“Coach, I’m staying,” he told Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who happened to be in the office.
“He matter-of-factly said it,” Sarkisian said. “There is no hidden agenda (with Locker), no tell-me-what-to-do. He’s a bright young man.”
A few minutes went by before UW athletic director Scott Woodward joined the meeting. Locker greeted him with the news.
“Once he makes up his mind, he’s that type of guy – he never looks back,” Woodward said. “He told me he would have had regrets if he left.”
A short time later, Locker told his teammates via a mass text message.
Locker, in the middle of finals week, was unavailable for comment. A statement, however, was released by the university shortly after noon on his behalf.
“After a great deal of careful thought and deliberation, I have decided to return to Washington and play my senior year,” he said. “I am very excited about this team’s opportunities and potential for the upcoming season and I am looking forward to being a part of it.”
Locker’s decision came as a mild surprise. Last week, Sarkisian said after early discussions with the quarterback, he was “very optimistic” the three-year starter would be back.
The sooner-than-later timing, just nine days after UW’s season-ending 42-10 victory over California, created the biggest sense of curiosity.
Locker had just filed paperwork with the NFL for an evaluation and grade on where he might go in the draft.
That wasn’t expected to come back until after Christmas, at the earliest.
On Monday, Sarkisian said that evaluation ultimately didn’t much weight because it wasn’t “going to reveal anything different than what the experts were putting out there.”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had Locker listed as the No. 5 pick on the latest “Big Board” for the 2010 draft. Locker was projected as the second quarterback chosen, after Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen.
ESPN colleague Todd McShay had Locker rated as the No. 1 selection overall.
Part of what Locker had to consider was the likelihood that looming negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association will create a rookie salary-slot system for 2011, abolishing the current lucrative system for high draft choices.
In the end, Sarkisian said his star’s decision was not about money.
“It’s about what he wants out of his life,” Sarkisian said. “Whether he was going to be the first, 10th or 15th pick, to some degree it wasn’t as relevant. What … another year would mean to his career here was.”
The UW football program recently self-reported a violation where more than $300 worth of alcohol was purchased for underage recruits on a recruiting visit, KING-TV reported.
It is not considered a major violation. The incident happened during Sarkisian’s first weekend as UW’s coach.
Washington’s all-time career leaders in total offense:
Read more on Jake Locker’s decision to return for his senior season from News Tribune reporter Todd Milles at: