SEATTLE – Each time he moved stiffly to address a questioner, Jake Locker’s entire body turned. His sore, sprained neck did not.
That revealed more about the chances of Washington’s prized redshirt freshman quarterback playing Saturday against California than did his words.
“It’s not out of the realm of possibility,” Locker said not so convincingly Tuesday, three days after he was immobilized on a stretcher and driven off the field to a hospital during a Pac-10 football loss at Oregon State following a helmet-to-helmet hit.
“I mean, yeah, I’d like to (play). I’m going to try as hard as I can,” he added.
But first, reality.
“That was a scary situation for me on Saturday,” he said. “I’ve never had anything like that happen to me before.”
He received get-well wishes from people he hadn’t heard from in years. Then he was handed a likeness of him drawn in purple crayon by a UW broadcaster’s 4-year-old child, who cried when Locker got hurt. The words “Feel better Jake” were atop the picture.
Locker still has a neck collar for the trapezius muscle strain, but he wasn’t wearing it because, he jokingly said, “It draws too much attention.”
The nation’s second-leading rusher among quarterbacks with 807 yards in 10 games has to show trainers he can turn his head while being able to leave the rest of his 6-foot-3, 225-pound body behind.
The Huskies (3-7, 1-6 Pac-10) have to consider the prudence of having their dynamic runner and passer – upon whom the program is relying for the next three seasons – play Saturday. The game has far less importance than the following week’s 100th Apple Cup against Washington State, now that Washington is officially out of contention for a bowl game.
Coach Tyrone Willingham initially said Locker would not practice Tuesday afternoon, that senior Carl Bonnell would lead the team instead.
“We have to see how he progresses Wednesday,” Willingham said of Locker.
But then the coach said, “We have been very clear to state that we will not rush him back.
“It’s pretty simple. We’ll consider his best interests and the best interests of the team.”
Bonnell sounded like he expected to start against the Bears (6-4, 3-4) and then yield to Locker for the Apple Cup.
“Maybe not this week, but next week,” Bonnell said of when he expects Locker to play.
So Locker is likely to miss the first football game of his life because of injury. He said the only time he missed any game growing up as a two-sport phenom in Ferndale, Wash., was when mononucleosis knocked him from a couple of baseball games.
Locker was scrambling on a third-down play in the second quarter Saturday night knowing he needed to get about four more yards for a first down. He ducked his head just before he was hit by Oregon State safety Al Afalava. Locker stayed down for about 15 minutes and did not appear to move while emergency workers attended to him.
He said he had a pinching sensation in the back of his neck – later diagnosed as a stinger. What scared him most was that he could not feel his left arm.
But as he was being put on a stretcher, his head immobilized and his parents near his side, the feeling returned to his arm. Medical personnel assured him they were just being cautious.
Locker returned to the sidelines with 3:18 left in the game, walking slowly and wearing a neck brace as the crowd cheered. Afalava briefly talked to and hugged Locker on the field after the game.
“He was really pretty cool about it,” Locker said.
Willingham still doesn’t agree with the Pac-10’s official review of the play Monday that there was “inadvertent” contact.
“It was pretty clear it was helmet-to-helmet contact,” which warrants a 15-yard penalty, Willingham said.
Locker agreed with the Pac-10’s view.
“We did hit helmet to helmet,” he said. “But I didn’t think he had any intention to take me out. It’s football. That kind of stuff happens.”