Locke balancing emotions of football, flood prior to first game

PJ Locke. (Will Gallagher/IT)

PJ Locke. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Football is a game of many different things. Toughness, attitude, and strength are some of the most popular descriptors. Emotion usually finds its way in there as well, especially in the realm of college football.

The first game of the year should normally carry with it emotions of excitement, anticipation, and an overall readiness to attack an opponent in a different colored uniform.

For junior P.J. Locke, the weekend began on Friday when he was told his teammates selected him and three others to lead them onto the field this season. Being chosen by almost 100 other men to lead them is a high honor the gravity of which is not lost on Locke, but there is an equally intense situation going on in Beaumont, Locke’s hometown.

Hurricane Harvey dropped unthinkable amounts of rain in Houston, where Locke said he has many friends and family. The storm moved back into the Gulf of Mexico, before turning and heading into Southeast Texas, near Locke’s hometown.

“I’ll ask you guys to send prayers to my family in this situation,” Locke said. “My whole neighborhood is pretty much all flooded, all the houses are underwater. My house luckily sits up high, so we don’t really have that problem right now but we just want to make it through this time.”

He said his house was not far from levees holding water back, but there was another risk near his home. Locke mentioned around 300 alligators from a farm in Beaumont had escaped due to rising waters.

“I just hate that we can’t physically help them,” Locke said.

Locke made sure to note that despite those risks in Beaumont, his family was safe. He also encouraged fans to donate to JJ Watt’s relief campaign.

In the midst of all this, Locke is preparing for Texas’ first football game under head coach Tom Herman this Saturday. It may be difficult, but Locke knows his mind has to be on football this Saturday.

“I’ve just got to be strong for my team,” Locke said. “We’ve got a game coming up and as a leader on the team you’ve just got to set stuff aside and be strong for your teammates, let them know that you’re all locked in. Because if I’m not locked in, it can have a domino effect and I definitely don’t want that.”

Instead, Locke wants to show the fans what they’ve been working on since late July.

“Putting all the extra work in with the new coaching staff, all the strength program work that we did, and just finally putting it to show,” Locke said. “It’s enough talking about it. Just the lead up, talking about it and everything, talking about it in the press. It’s time to just put all our actions on the field.”

Part of the planning for Maryland involves getting ready to face something they struggled with last season, dual threat quarterbacks. The Terrapins named sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome their starter. The Alabama native played in 11 games last season, and had 322 passing yards along with 254 rushing yards on the year.

Pigrome adds a dynamic element to their offense, so Texas made sure to prepare against a runner on the scout team.

“We have a running back playing quarterback,” Locke said. “He’s doing a hell of a job playing quarterback, pretending to be No. 3, because No. 3? He can go. It’s going to be a game to watch right there.”

The Horns struggled against dual threats at times last year, but Locke says they’ve seen a lot of running quarterback play during camp.

“We prepare for it every day,” Locke said. “Leading up to the game, we’ll be 100 percent confident.”

In the wake of a natural disaster like Harvey, Locke was asked if the four or so hours on the field on Saturday were therapeutic to him. For the captain, he’ll be ready when the whistle blows.

“The passion for the game will take care of itself.”