By Aaron Earls
After four years as a quarterback in the NFL, Jake Locker stepped away from football. And it’s partly Lecrae’s fault.
An in-depth profile of Locker in Sports Illustrated details how the former Tennessee Titans quarterback struggled to find his identity throughout high school, college, and into the NFL.
He had an unearned reputation for being a straitlaced, deeply religious person, but Locker only sporadically attended Catholic Church services growing up and didn’t think of himself as religious.
Yet at Washington, where Locker went to college, students began wearing JAKE 3:16 shirts and viewing him as a “God-fearing, program-saving deity,” according to SI.
To cope with the pressure, Locker told SI he began to drink in college, so much that he would black out for entire nights.
When he got to the NFL, Locker sat under veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who began to mentor his young understudy.
After Locker’s first NFL season, Hasselbeck invited him to a Pro Athletes Outreach conference in Orlando, Florida. There Locker heard Lecrae—and met Jesus.
The Christian hip-hop artist spoke about the pressure he faced trying to “keep it real,” until he decided to prioritize Jesus and family above everything else.
Locker told SI that the pressure Lecrae spoke of mirrored his own. That realization led both him and his wife to commit their lives to Christ and be baptized at the conference—with Hasselbeck standing with them in the water.
Over his next few seasons in the NFL, Locker had ups and downs. He took over the starting job for the Titans, but injuries and coaching changes often derailed his development.
When his four-year contract was up, Locker knew it was time to step away. On March 10, 2015, he announced his retirement—at the age of 26.
“Fame and fortune equal success for most people,” Locker told SI. “But those things aren’t things that last.”
Super Bowl-winning quarterback Nick Foles expressed his support for Locker in a recent tweet linking to the SI story.
I’m a huge Jake Locker fan and this is a big reason why. He keeps it real and puts his faith and family first. I really enjoyed reading this story about him. If you have time I recommend you read it. https://t.co/XFp1fxRFVh
— Nick Foles (@NickFoles) April 23, 2018
Locker’s agent fielded calls from numerous NFL teams, asking if the quarterback was interested in coming out of retirement.
For a man who used to define himself by his athletic ability and achievements, Locker said he was amused by people who asked him how he keeps busy.
“And that was interesting, this idea that you have be busy to be valuable,” he said. “That I couldn’t just be a dad.”
After stepping away from football, Locker moved back to his old hometown, where he helps with the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes, mentors quarterbacks at his high school, and co-owns the town gym. But most of his time is spent with his wife and kids.
“Every coach I ever played for says these are the priorities: faith, family, football,” Hasselbeck told SI. “But no one really lives that way. No one. Jake didn’t retire. He put family and faith first.”
When asked about his talk at the Orlando conference leading to Locker’s retirement, Lecrae said, “I hope his fans aren’t mad at me.”
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.