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Fast, and faster
While discussing the state of the Seahawks’ wide receivers corps, Mike Williams offered, “When I look at our talent, we’ve got a guy that can run past anybody.”
The team’s leading receiver during the 2010 season did not put a name to the description. But then there was no need, because Ricardo Lockette obviously is Williams’ intended target. Lockette is so fast, in fact, that dimension of his game is the first thing – and often the only thing – anyone wants to talk about.
The dude isn’t just football fast; Lockette is only-a-blur-as-he-blows-past-you fast.
Check this resume: NCAA Division II national champion in the 200 meters at Fort Valley State in 2008 with a time of 20.6 seconds; a PR (personal record) in the event of 20.3 seconds; Georgia state sprint champion at Monroe High School in Albany; tied for third-fastest time in the 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine (4.37 seconds); a PR in that event of 4.26 seconds.
And he could have been even faster. Says who? Tyree Price, Lockette’s track coach at Fort Valley State who now holds the same position at South Carolina State, Price’s alma mater.
“Ricardo was a very good track runner – very good,” Price said Tuesday. “As soon as got here, you could see the potential. If he had stuck with track, he would have been at the (U.S. Olympic) Trials this year.”
Price predicts that Lockette could have eventually run the 400-meter dash in the 44-to-45 second range, if he had concentrated solely on that sport.
“Ricardo dabbled with some 46’s, but he never put his true work into the 400,” Price said. “But he’s that caliber of runner.”
Because Lockette always has been fast – fastest kid in the neighborhood, fastest sprinter in the state, fastest sprinter in the nation – he also has had to wage the war of perception. He is, screams the look of determination that washes across his face, a football player who is fast; rather than a fast guy trying to play football.
“I was always fast,” the 6-foot-2, 211-pound Lockette said. “But growing up, I was always one of the biggest guys, too. I always wanted to play receiver, but when I started playing football in high school they put me at defensive end.
“I was a good pass-rusher, but the (offensive) linemen were so big they’d just push me down before I could get back there. So I moved to wide receiver the next year, and it changed my life.”
When did Lockette become aware of just how fast he is? “When I started to easily beat the guys that everybody was in awe of how fast they were,” he said. “It was always an easy thing for me, and eventually I started thinking, ‘Maybe I am fast.’ ”
And he keeps doing things that draw attention to just how fast he is. Like his limited, but beyond-the-limits, contributions during his rookie season for the Seahawks. Lockette caught only two passes last season, but the first went for 44 yards to set up a touchdown in the home finale against the San Francisco 49ers and the second was a 61-yarder for a touchdown in the season finale against the Cardinals in Arizona.
That’s a 52.5-yard per-catch average, which is a quantum leap above average no matter how limited the receptions.
“It was like ‘Rocky,’ ” Lockette said when asked to explain the feeling of running into the endzone against the Cardinals. “If you can image how Rocky felt when he got to the top of the steps, that’s exactly how I felt. And it makes you want it even more and more.”
But Lockette had to wait his turn. He spent the first 13 games on the practice squad and then was inactive for his first game after being elevated to the 53-man roster on Dec. 22.
“It’s human to have your ups and downs, and your doubts and your good days,” he said of the slow start to his first NFL season. “But I was eager to get on the field. And once the opportunity came, no matter how the ball was thrown or where it was thrown, if it was thrown in my vicinity it was going to be caught because I had worked so hard to get there and refused to let any opportunity go.”
Increasing his contributions has been Lockette’s goal since the day after that New Year’s Eve loss to the Cardinals when the players were cleaning out their cubicles in the locker room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center. This offseason, he flew to Montgomery, Miss., to work out and study with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and is grabbing every possible opportunity to discuss the nuances of route running and creating separation from Doug Baldwin, who was the team’s leading receiver as a rookie free agent last season; and Golden Tate, a second-round draft choice in 2010.
“I’m working on that, to let them know I am an all-round receiver and not just a guy who can run deep routes,” Lockette said. “I’ve been working with Tarvaris and Doug and Golden, just trying to get the routes down, getting off the line, getting my hands right, getting my head over my shoulders. Studying the playbook every night, with the notes I made last season.
“I don’t want to just be the fastest; I want to be the best – at whatever I do.”
Lockette cracks the slightest of smiles before adding, “I want to be a tall Doug Baldwin.”
And as Price put it, “When Ricardo wants something; he goes about trying to get it done. I know that for a fact.”
Call it desire. Or determination. Or both. Because Lockette was born with that, too.
“What I like about Ricardo, he is confident in himself,” Price said. “Now that can be good and bad. But he is very competitive. And you could tell early on, that was going to be his big thing that was going to carry him on – especially with track.
“It didn’t matter who he lined up against, because in his mind no one was going to beat him. No matter what, he was going to pull into another gear and beat anybody in front of him.”
Lockette had this same almost-demented desire during the lockout last offseason, before he signed with the Seahawks on July 26. He worked out with Terance Mathis, a former Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons.
“You can teach a guy a lot of things, but that kind of speed isn’t one of them,” Mathis told the Sports Xchange last summer. “It’s definitely going to help his odds.”
Ah, back to that speed. The more Lockette tries to distance himself from the fact that he is silly fast and put the focus on his skills as a receiver, the harder it seems to run away from the obvious.
But then that should-he-only-sprint/should-he-only-ball debate has been raging for years – heavy emphasis on the raging.
“I never wanted to run track,” Lockette said. “They talked me into it in high school and then they talked me into it again in college.
“There were battles all the time. All the time. Like all-out, face-to-face arguments between the football coach and the track coach. I would see them arguing and I’d just turnaround the go the other way.”
Price just laughed when asked about those exchanges with Deondri Clark, the former football coach at Fort Valley State.
“Oh yeah, we went round and round regarding Ricardo many a time,” Price said.
Price and Lockette’s father were fraternity brothers at South Carolina State. So when Lockette was looking for a university after attending Wallace State Community College following high school, the elder Lockette called Price.
“I told his father, ‘We’ll give him an opportunity to play football while he’s here, but remember I’m recruiting him for track,’ ” Price said. “We all know how that worked out.”
Price’s lingering regret isn’t that he allowed Clark to “steal” Lockette; it’s that he didn’t pilfer the prospect himself.
“The only thing I regretted when I left Fort Valley is that when I had an opportunity to bring some of those athletes with me, I told them to stay and get their degrees,” Price said. “I didn’t want to take them away from the school where they were making their mark.
“Now if I could go back in time, I wish I had brought some of them with me. And Ricardo is definitely one of them.”