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Locker continues to make Ferndale proud

The more things change, the more Jake Locker seems to stay the same.

Poised to lead the University of Washington into its first bowl game in more years than any respectable Huskies football fan would care to remember, the former Ferndale High School phenom has consistently represented his hometown and home state in a way that makes them feel proud to call him one of their own.

At least that's the way his old coach sees it. Vic Randall, who currently serves as the Golden Eagles athletic director after coaching up Locker for several seasons on the football field, says Locker's biggest impact has been outside the lines. Locker has showed up for or added weight to a multitude of causes in Whatcom County over the years.

"He's appeared at a lot of different public venues in the Ferndale area, but I think the key is that Jake's a great role model for the people and for the kids of Ferndale," said Randall, who coached Locker when he was a freshman for the Golden Eagles before giving way to current coach Jamie Plenkovich. "They're very proud of him for the role model he is."

Locker's former Golden Eagles teammate and current roommate Rocki Sandusky agreed. He plans to be in the crowd to cheer on his friend when the quarterback leads Washington against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl Thursday, Dec. 30, at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium.

"He's had a tremendous impact, a positive impact," Sandusky said.

That's saying a lot considering the kind of magic Locker has been able to conjure up while wearing a pair of football cleats.

SPARKLED ON THE FIELD

While the Class 3A state championship he led Ferndale to in his senior season was impressive, Locker's playing legacy in Whatcom County might be the allure. Packing Civic Stadium twice - both sides and around the fences - during separate postseason games for the Golden Eagles is the snapshot Randall conjures when recalling the Jake Locker era.

And it wasn't just people from Locker's hometown who would pack the stands to watch the gifted quarterback run the Golden Eagles' offense on Friday football nights, which Randall remembers as often being "standing room only."

"It was just amazing the number of people who wanted to see this kid play," he said.

Randall, like many others across Ferndale and Whatcom County, has continued to tune in to see his prized pupil every Saturday during the fall months while Locker has commanded the Washington offense - and gained the attention of pro football scouts. His old coach has seen Locker grow bigger, stronger and improve considerably as a passer over the years.

But he still loves to see Locker make plays with his feet - the amazing ones often prompted when the play breaks down and the Huskies quarterback uses his talent to turn lemons into a lemonade spritzer.

"It's really fun to watch when his natural instincts take over," Randall said.

SHINES AWAY FROM THE GAME

Off the field, his coach is still as impressed as ever.

"I've seen the same person that I saw I don't know how many years ago," Randall said.

The country got a glimpse of that, too, when Locker turned down a chance to be a top pick in the NFL draft following his junior year. He decided to return to UW because he felt he had unfinished business - basically, a bowl game appearance.

Sandusky said Locker lives with no regrets - "He's like that about everything" - and that the decision was "one of those things where no matter what choice he made there, it was the right choice."

Technically, with a chance to take down the Cornhuskers in the Holiday Bowl, Locker has accomplished what he set out to do.

"Probably 95 percent of the people in his position would have come out (for the NFL draft)," Randall said. "He thought he had unfinished business. He came there to get some things done and he's done that."

What he's also done is leave an indelible mark on Whatcom County, and increasingly far beyond. As usual, it has stretched beyond the playing field. Sandusky said his longtime friend has frequented a children's hospital in the Seattle area during his time at UW, making friends and doing what he can to lift spirits wherever he goes.

"That's one of the things that really satisfies him at the end of the day, that he can make a difference to a kid or somebody in the hospital," Sandusky said. "He talks about it all the time.

"I think it's one of those things he realizes that he can do for somebody else. Just his presence can help those kids feel special. He knows that's something he needs to do. I guarantee he's going to do more of it."

Locker, despite his star status, doesn't seek attention. Many of his appearances he makes quietly - no media, no hoopla.

Sandusky, Locker and three other roommates, including former Ferndale teammate Jesse Young, often spend nights at home, playing shuffleboard on a 30-foot table they constructed inside their Seattle-area house instead of going out, because the quarterback garners so much attention when out in public.

When he returned to Ferndale this summer to be the guest of honor for the Old Settlers Picnic and Grand Parade, much of the town turned out to wave and cheer.

"This is Ferndale's chance to say goodbye," Mayor Gary Jensen said at the time. "It's the chance for the town to say 'thank you.' He's done a lot for this community, and he really is our most famous citizen right now."

Where Locker ends up next fall is anybody's guess, though it should be one of the 32 cities called home by NFL teams. He probably won't get a choice on where he ends up.

But on Thursday, by choice, he'll still be in a Huskies uniform playing quarterback for Washington. In a bowl game.

"It's a nice way to end things," Sandusky said. "I'm actually going. I'm excited. I can't wait. I think he really deserves a bowl game, at the least. This will be a good way to cap things off."

WATCH HOLIDAY BOWL

What: Jake Locker leads the Washington Huskies against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 30.

TV: ESPN.

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