By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE (AP) - Jake Locker sat stiffly, rotating his entire body in the direction of his questioner.
It looked much the same as it did a week earlier, when Locker painfully held his head upright, days removed from a crushing blow that sent Washington's star quarterback to a Corvallis, Ore., hospital on a stretcher.
Suddenly, a big smile appeared on his face.
``I'm just joking around with you guys. It feels fine,'' Locker said as the room erupted in laughter. ``I was actually thinking about wearing the neck brace for you guys.''
Yes, Locker is ready for his first Apple Cup. His sense of humor is perfectly tuned, and if Locker has his say, he'll be starting behind center in Saturday's game against Washington State.
``It was tough to stand and watch.''
It was only a week ago that Locker could barely rotate his head, the result of the helmet-to-helmet blow from Oregon State's Al Afalava.
Locker was scrambling on a third-down play in the second quarter of Washington's 29-23 loss on Nov. 10 at Oregon State, knowing he needed to get about 4 more yards for a first down. He ducked his head just before he was hit by Afalava. Locker stayed down for about 15 minutes and did not appear to move while emergency workers attended to him.
Locker was immobilized and taken off the field on a stretcher as a precaution. He was later diagnosed with a stinger and a muscle strain.
The range of motion in his neck improved significantly throughout last week, to the point that Locker was in uniform and going through warmups on Saturday against California. But the plan was never to use Locker and he enjoyed seeing backup Carl Bonnell lead the Huskies (4-7) to an impressive win over California.
Now Locker wants back on the field.
``One of the big reasons I chose to come here is because I trust the coaches that I play for. I know they're not going to put me in a situation I'm not ready for,'' Locker said. ``Along with that trust comes the trust that I'm going to tell them the truth. If I feel that I'm ready to play I hope they'll trust me and I'm fully confident they will.''
Perhaps as a sign of gamesmanship, coach Tyrone Willingham hedged on Monday from declaring Locker his starter against the Cougars, but admitted a healthy Locker would have him leaning heavily in that direction. Offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said Tuesday Locker would start.
Even after missing more than 1 1/2 games, Locker still accounts for nearly 59 percent of Washington's total offense this season. Locker's 807 yards rushing ranks third in the country by a quarterback, getting passed by West Virginia's Pat White during his absence.
Two big performances on the ground against the Cougars and in the finale versus Hawaii, could have Locker joining running back Louis Rankin in the 1,000-yard club. Washington has never had two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.
Taking a major step toward that mark against the Cougars would be sweet for Locker.
``These are the kinds of games I enjoy, personally, because of the atmosphere,'' he said. ``It makes it so much fun.''
But the hit against Oregon State has the entire Washington program wanting the hard-nosed Locker to take a safer approach when on the run. Lappano admits there is nothing that can be done when Locker takes off running in the middle of the field, other than Locker deciding to slide - a rarity this season.
When running near the sideline, though, Lappano wants Locker to simply step out of bounds. When he was injured against Oregon State, Locker was near the sideline and cut back inside trying to get a first down.
``When he's on the sideline, I think he will be more apt to get out of bounds then stick his foot in the ground and go back inside and take somebody on,'' Lappano said.
Source: ncaafootball.com; Photo Credit: COLLEGIATE IMAGES