Jake Locker's homecoming is bittersweet

RENTON, Wash. -- This was supposed to be a fun homecoming weekend for Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker.

The former University of Washington quarterback, the kid who stayed home to help a once-proud football program regain respect, was finally going to play in Seattle as an NFL starter against the Seahawks, the team he grew up watching.

It won't turn out that way. Locker suffered a sprained hip two weeks ago and is expected to miss four of five games.

"It's tough," Locker said Wednesday on a conference calls with Seahawks reporters. "I was really looking forward to having the opportunity to play in front of family and friends. It's hard."

It's difficult to overstate just how beloved Locker is among Huskies fans in the Pacific Northwest. He grew up in Ferndale, about 90 miles north of Seattle. By his junior year in 2004, Locker was one of the most sought-after high school quarterbacks in the nation.

Locker could have played almost anywhere, including Texas the year after the Longhorns won the national championship. Coach Mack Brown wanted to bring in Locker to replace Vince Young.

Washington was 3-19 the two seasons before Locker arrived. The Huskies went 0-12 in 2008, Locker's sophomore year, before Tyrone Willingham was fired and Steve Sarkisian became the new coach.

Sarkisian helped Locker shine. The Huskies went 7-6 in Locker's senior season of 2010 and beat Nebraska 19-7 in the Holiday Bowl, Washington's first bowl appearance in eight years.

Locker was projected as a top five draft pick after his junior year but elected to stay for his senior season at Washington, another reason many fans see him as a hero.

Tennessee made Locker its first-round draft pick in 2011, but Locker played behind Matt Hasselbeck, whom he watched play many games as the Seahawks quarterback. Locker said Hasselbeck was a great mentor.

"He's just a great person," Locker said. "It's the heart of the guy. I learned a lot about just carrying yourself and what it means to be a positive role model, someone who does good in the community.

"And on the field, it was the formula that worked for him about what it takes to be successful in the NFL. He shared as much of that knowledge as he could with me. I'm thankful for that."

Locker took over as Titans starter last season but struggled at times. Before his injury this year, he was playing at a level the Titans always expected of him.

"People were really starting to see what we've always seen here in him as the kind of player that can make the key plays to win the game," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "It's disappointing whenever you lose your quarterback, but especially for Jake. It really took the wind out of us a little bit and we had a very slow start last weekend."

Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has taken over as the starter. The Titans were 3-1 with Locker starting but lost to Kansas City last weekend 26-17.

"Jake was doing a great job with his decision-making on when to throw the ball and when not to," Munchak said. "He kept us in all the games. But we lost Jake and we ended up having three turnovers last week."

Locker completed 69 of 111 passes for six touchdowns and no interceptions in the first four games.

"I felt really confident," Locker said. "As an offense, we were catching our stride. There's a difference in what we're doing offensively, and the mindset of everybody on this side of the ball has changed this year. The attitude in the locker room is completely different."

Locker is eager to get back on the field. He firmly believes he'll return faster than the projections, already ditching his crutches.

"They want me to be on them still, but for the most part, I've gotten rid of 'em," Locker said. "I'm trying to get back as quick as I can. I'm not paying attention to timelines that have been thrown out there."

It won't be this weekend at home in Seattle, but he might attend the Huskies' big home game Saturday afternoon against second-ranked Oregon.

"We're checking it out," Locker said. "Obviously, I would love to, but I'm a part of this football team and this is a business trip. I might try and catch a little bit of it, but if it interferes with anything we're doing, then I won't."

Locker is 25 now and a father. He and wife, Lauren, a former Washington softball player, are parents to a 14-month-old daughter, Colbie.

"The little one is growing like a weed," Locker said.

So is Locker, who is playing like the talented, tough and determined quarterback everyone watched at Washington. But a chance to do it again in Seattle will have to wait.