Who is the first player that comes to mind when you think of the Oregon Ducks football team? Marcus Mariota? Ifo Ekpre-Olomu? What about the players who dedicate just as much of their time and work ethic, and don’t see much (if any) playing time? It’s extremely challenging to earn a spot as a starter on any Division I football squad, let alone on a team as good as the Ducks. Among all the largely unsung Oregon non-starters, you could say that talented, dedicated backup quarterback Jeff Lockie arguably has the most challenging position on the team. Can you fathom the pressure he must be under, game in and game out, or the feeling in his stomach when he sees the starter go down?
I think we sometimes underestimate the importance of a good backup quarterback. With the eyes of the nation on the top players, backups are sidelined, literally. It’s often only when a starting QB goes down that fans discover his understudy’s name (Anyone know who Tom Brady’s backup is? How about Peyton Manning?). Yet these are often highly skilled players, largely relegated to calling in plays from the sideline and riding the bench.
For backup quarterbacks, waiting is the game. For some, it becomes too much. This is what happened with 2011-2012 backup Ducks quarterback Bryan Bennett, who left Eugene to assume the starting quarterback position at Southeastern Louisiana University, after two seasons with Oregon.
Why would anyone leave a powerhouse, highly-ranked football program like Oregon’s for some FCS team? The answer is simple: playing time. For some, the chance to get on the field as a starter, even if with a program that doesn’t register on the radar of most collegiate football watchers, is more attractive than playing second string on a national title contender. Luckily for the Ducks, Jeff Lockie is committed to this challenging task.
As far as Lockie is concerned, it’s hard to leave when you’re learning from an outstanding offensive coordinator like Scott Frost, and practicing with Heisman candidate Mariota. Lockie explains his experience working with the Flyin’ Hawaiian, ”It’s awesome. It’s a good experience having Marcus. He is an easy model of how it is supposed to look. So I think it is super beneficial.”
Lockie’s main competitors, Jake Rodrigues and Damion Hobbs have transferred, leaving walk-on Taylor Adie, and incoming freshman Morgan Mahalak to content with Jeff for the go-to backup role. Lockie seems undaunted: “I’m just trying to do my best to get the ball to other players. Let them catch the ball and do what they do best. That’s definitely my main focus.”
Last season, as a fan, I found myself nervous when the Ducks weren’t up by 30 at half. Know what I mean? As soon as Lockie or Rodrigues entered into the game, it felt like a win was assured. Lockie approaches each game he enters with the mentality of a calm, collected baseball closer: “Just do my job. Make sure everyone is on the same page, that we are all moving, and just score touchdowns on every drive. That is the goal now and will continue to be the goal.”
Before arriving at Oregon, Lockie was a star quarterback at Monte Vista High School, in Alamo, Calif. The transition from playing quarterback in high school, to the Ducks’ fast-paced, complex offense would be a tough assignment for anyone, both mentally and physically. Lockie’s keenly aware of the challenge: “The speed and pace of play. The guys are so much more talented than high school and move a lot faster. Then put in the fact that our offense is so much faster – you have to think quickly.”
The 6’2″, 200 lb. Redshirt sophomore has dreamed of starting for the Ducks since first walking into Autzen Stadium. With rumors of Mariota leading the candidates for the Heisman trophy this upcoming season and heading into the NFL draft in 2015, fans are already beginning to wonder who will be the next great starter for Oregon. Jeff Lockie hopes his name will be called.
Feature photo by Craig Strobeck