For the first time in his life, Tyler Lockett hoped for the worst.
He was meeting with his family and coaches in hopes of answering a question he wasn’t capable of tackling alone — should he return to Kansas State for his senior year or should he turn pro? He had a plan. If they agreed he was a lock for the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, he would consider leaving college early. Otherwise, he would stay put.
Lockett set those parameters to protect himself from his emotions. He wanted to make the right decision, not the sentimental choice. Secretly, though, he craved only one type of feedback. So he exhaled as his support group came to a consensus: He was not a surefire high draft pick.
“I wanted to stay,” Lockett said. “There is more I need to get done.”
Lockett, K-State’s star senior receiver, uses the word “more” differently than most people. He is already the Wildcats’ leader in career kick-return yardage, and he ranks in the top five of every major receiving category. He has played in three bowl games and has won a Big 12 championship. He would be remembered as one of the best players in school history without catching another pass.
What more does he have to accomplish? Some would say nothing. Lockett thinks the opposite.
His to-do list remains long, and includes everything from winning a national championship to passing his father and his uncle as the best football player in his athletic family. If he can duplicate his breakthrough junior campaign of 81 catches for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns, he will not only surpass his bloodline, he will leave K-State as its most prolific receiver.
With 75 more catches, 838 more yards and nine more touchdowns, he will rank No. 1 in four of K-State’s career statistical categories. And with one more big kickoff return, he will tie the program record touchdown returns. He also wants to graduate, which he is on pace to do in December.
Simply put, Lockett wants it all.
Of course, that puts him in a peculiar position. Most of K-State’s receiving records belong to Lockett’s father, Kevin, who played for the Wildcats in the mid-1990s. But before he can catch his dad, Lockett must also pass his uncle, Aaron, who left K-State in 2001.
Father and uncle are so proud of their accomplishments that they tell Lockett he will need to break their records by wide margins to avoid asterisks, because bowl stats were ignored when they played. Still, they are running out of time to brag.
“Everyone loves attention, but I had my time,” Kevin Lockett said. “My hope is Tyler will surpass the things that I have done. At the end of the day, he should. Will Tyler be the best statistical receiver to come through that university? Probably so.”
The coronation seems inevitable, but it is not a given.
Tyler Lockett might already be on top in K-State’s record books if he had stayed healthy. He missed the majority of two games last season because of an injured hamstring, he was limited in two games as a sophomore and he missed four games because of a lacerated kidney as a freshman. He has yet to experience a healthy season.
He expects that to change as a senior, allowing him to contend for national awards and to challenge Jordy Nelson’s mammoth senior year of 122 catches, 1,606 yards and 11 touchdowns. Much of Lockett’s summer was dedicated to injury prevention.
Instead of pushing through minor injuries, he is now reporting every scratch to K-State’s training staff. Instead of stretching occasionally, he is now stretching daily. Instead of avoiding the cold tub, he is now submerging his muscles into icy water after every workout.
Those are big changes that he thinks will help him add punt returns to his usual workload. Still, the most drastic change may not be seen until the season begins. This year, he says he will do everything he can to avoid big hits — even if it means sacrificing yardage.
“You don’t have to take the unnecessary hits,” Lockett said. “Sometimes receivers get into plays where there are seven or eight players around them and they take unnecessary hits. (Receivers) Coach (Andre) Coleman tells me, ‘You can catch the ball and fall to the ground if you want to. Protect yourself.’”
That might not be easy for a speedster like Lockett, who can turn a broken tackle into a touchdown. But he is willing to change for his team. Watching K-State lose to Oklahoma State and Baylor from the sideline last season felt like torture.
“I don’t really regret it, though, because I learned a lot from my injuries and what happened after my injuries,” Lockett said. “I came back strong, got motivated and got to see all the stuff I was taking for granted. If I don’t feel like practicing, I can remind myself, ‘well, if I was hurt I wouldn’t be able to practice so I better give it my all.’ ”
That approach has been easier to embrace.
“I'm so proud of his attitude, his value system,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said, “and part of that guides him to do anything and everything he can to get himself a little bit better every day.
“He's one of those guys that you leave the practice field, you go in your office, you look out the window and you've got the equipment managers out there twiddling their thumbs wanting to get the lights turned off and Tyler won't let them, because he's out there catching balls.”
Taking the lead
Lockett’s grandfather long ago dedicated a room in his Tulsa, Okla., home to the athletic achievements of his family. For years, John Lockett dominated the shelves. Then his sons forced his trophies to the side. Now, his grandson owns the room.
“Tyler has pretty much taken over,” John Lockett said. “It’s hard for me to find the words to describe his success, because I have been driving to K-State games for 20 years and I remember when Tyler was watching his dad play. It all feels like a dream.”
Many of the highlights came last season.
Tyler Lockett had 237 yards against Texas, 278 yards against Oklahoma and three touchdowns in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Along the way, he won head-to-head battles with current NFL cornerbacks Jason Verrett, Justin Gilbert and Aaron Colvin.
Funny thing is, when you ask Lockett about last season the first game he points out is Massachusetts. He had one catch for 8 yards.
“There are going to be cornerbacks gunning for me,” Lockett said. “So I need to be at my best at all times. I can’t look past a game. I need to be ready to play Stephen F. Austin. I can’t look at Auburn’s cornerback and skip Stephen F. Austin. I have to go in every game on top of it, because someone is going to question everything you do and try to embarrass you.”
Lockett hasn’t been embarrassed often at K-State. Yet, when you ask him about his first three seasons, he replies, “I haven’t done anything.”
That approach has helped him since he arrived on campus. As a freshman, Lockett told everyone he wanted to redshirt. He thought he was too small and too inexperienced to play immediately. But once he gave his all in practices Snyder told him to think differently. He ended up with 809 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns as a freshman.
His journey to elite playmaker was underway.
“Tyler is the ultimate perfectionist,” K-State quarterback Jake Waters said. “He knows how to beat you with technique, and he is always looking for that extra advantage, no matter how small. He has speed and agility and hands, but everyone at this level has that. He tries to put defensive backs in bad positions with fundamentals. That’s why he’s a special player.”
Kevin Lockett describes his son’s college career as an evolution. As a freshman, Tyler mastered the kickoff return. As a sophomore, he learned how to make big plays as a receiver. As a junior, he became a deep threat.
Over the years Kevin has seen flashes of himself and his brother in his son, as if Tyler soaked up their best qualities. Now he thinks his son is ready to put it all together.
“This is the year he makes the leap from good player to great player,” Kevin said. “He is getting off the line of scrimmage and into his breaks much faster. Plus, he has a great quarterback returning. It is the perfect system for him.”
That is a scary thought considering what Tyler Lockett has already done.
He hoped for the worst. What he wanted was the best.
“I am really looking forward to this season,” Lockett said. “My dad says he is the best Lockett. My uncle says he is the best Lockett. I want to be able to say, ‘Hey, I broke your records.’ But at the same time I want to win and be able to celebrate everything in the moment. So much can happen. I’m just going to try and enjoy it.”
To reach Kellis Robinett, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @KellisRobinett.