A Long Road to Success | Tyler Lockett's Story
His freshman season at K-State was a struggle, to say the least. The now-Wildcat football legend felt the pressure of living up to his dad, Kevin Lockett, and his uncle, Aaron Lockett, almost instantly when he arrived at K-State.
"Honestly, it was crazy," said Lockett earlier this month. "I came in and, when you read the articles about me, there were so many expectations. You'd read the articles and they'd all say, 'He has the hands of his dad,' and, 'He has the speed of his uncle.' My dad was K-State's best receiver and my uncle was one of the top returners. So that first year, I really wanted to redshirt, but I put myself in the position during the early workouts where the coaches didn't want me to."
Lockett didn't want to be out on the field for everyone to judge that first year. He wanted the redshirt, so much so, that he even considered not going 100 percent in practice so he wouldn't have to play that first season. He considered the idea, but his teammates quickly talked him out of it.
"So I said, 'God, I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm just going to go out there and play hard, and whatever happens, happens,'" Lockett remembered.
What happened was the 5-foot-10 receiver and returner caught the eyes of his coaches and went on to play in the Wildcats' 2011 home opener. Lockett became the only true freshman that season to see playing time.
"I ended up playing that first game, and it wasn't bad at all," said Lockett. "I caught my first pass and everybody was screaming. I thought, 'I can get used to this.'"
Against Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 3, 2011, Lockett returned two punts for 13 yards and also saw some action at wide receiver where he caught two passes from Collin Klein for a total of 25 yards.
However, the following game against Kent State, things didn't go quite as smoothly for Lockett.
"The second game of my freshman season, I played probably the worst game I've ever had," Lockett's voice became quieter as he reminisced back to that day. "I dropped an open pass, and I muffed a punt. I started getting too caught up in all of the expectations people had for me.
"I began thinking, 'I can't do this,'" he continued. "Not too many people know this, but I was about to leave. I didn't listen to my dad and my mom who were trying to encourage me to stay. I told them, 'I'm out. I should have redshirted; I should have gone to a school closer to home. Get me away from this legacy.'"
His mind was made up; he was done.
Ready to leave K-State, ready to leave the legacy in the dust, Lockett decided to take a walk from his dorm to the football complex to clear his mind.
"On that walk I was praying a little bit, and I just kept thinking about how I couldn't do it anymore," he explained. "Then, a story popped in my head. It was about the disciples. A man was born blind and they asked, 'Did this man sin because he was born blind or was it because his parents sinned? The answer was, neither of them. It was done so the glory of God could be revealed."
"When that story popped into my mind out of nowhere, everything just made sense," he continued. "Everything that happened to me up to that point and in those first two games, it happed so I would realize that I couldn't do this with my own strength."
On that walk, the freshman realized he had a very special opportunity before him. It wasn't going to be easy. It was going to take hard work and a whole lot of faith, but he wanted to do it. He wanted to stay.
Back on track and locked in, he was ready to continue his career at K-State, but there were still bumps in the road. Lockett still felt the pressure of competing on the same level as his dad and uncle.
"It was hard to go out there and just be me," he continued. "I loved away games more than home games my freshman year because I was able to go out there and focus. When you look at the games that I was played well in, against Texas Tech I was relaxed and against KU and Oklahoma State I was relaxed, but it was the home games I stressed about."
Lockett was right. That first season, he shined on the road. It took him a while to get used to playing under the pressure at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, but he eventually came around.
He was doing well, moving up. He earned a starting spot and began enjoying his freshman year. That is, until Nov. 5, 2011. In the Wildcats' ninth game of the season at Oklahoma State, Lockett suffered a lacerated kidney, a severe enough injury that it could have ended his career, and he wound up in the hospital with the news his freshman season was over.
"I had a very long freshman year," Lockett sighed. "But even with the injury I still won Walter Camp Freshman of the Year award and I got Big 12 Freshman of the Year. I got all these accolades even though I suffered a season-ending injury. I wouldn't have gotten all of that if I had redshirted."
The lone Wildcat true freshman to play that 2011 season, Lockett finished the year with quite the resume. Not only was he named a First Team Walter Camp All-American and the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, but he also earned two Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors and was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team.
He had to overcome a lot, but it paid off in the end.
After that roller coaster season, things began looking up, and as his career continued, his accolades continued to grow. He continued to get better, and by his senior season, he was inching in on becoming one of the greatest players in K-State history.
When it was all said and done and he played his final game in purple, Lockett had broken 17 school records, including the career marks for receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, 100-yard receiving games, kickoff return attempts and kickoff return yards, to name a few. He became K-State's first four-time All-American and is also one of just three players in school history to earn all-conference honors all four years.
During Lockett's senior season, he was named a Consensus All-American and the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year for a second-straight season, while he was also a Campbell Trophy Finalist and a Senior CLASS Award Finalist. During his career, he helped K-State win a Big 12 Championship in 2012, earn four-consecutive bowl berths and compile a 38-14 record.
"Luckily during my four years we were building and growing, and we were really good," said Lockett as he tied his cleats in preparation to train on his own at the Wildcats' indoor football facility. "The first year we went to the Cotton Bowl, then the Fiesta Bowl, then the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and, not too long ago, the Alamo Bowl. The biggest thing I loved about it was we were really something special, and we turned this program around for a second time."
Before he hit the field to train, Lockett took a long look around the familiar facility he stood in. Among the banners hanging from the building's rafters were the 2012 Big 12 Championship banner and four new bowl banners - he smiled, knowing he played a key role in each.
DRAFT DAY APPROACHES
Now a Kansas State graduate and an athlete who will go down as one of the greatest in Wildcat football history, Lockett is looking forward to the next chapter of his life: one as a professional football player in the NFL.
Later this week, Lockett will be joined by his family and close friends as he waits for his name to be called in the 2015 NFL Draft. He's not sure where he'll go in the draft - perhaps in the third round, according to NFL.com - but if the right team wants him, his name could be called at any moment.
"It's going to be amazing hearing my name get called," said Lockett with a smile. "They pick you out the thousands of football players out there. It's going to be fun sitting there with my family, watching, figuring out which team I'm going to go to. I just hope it's a great team with a great system.
"The biggest thing for me is going to a team that's going to utilize me," he continued, "a team that's going to allow me to do what I do best. That's one thing that my dad said he's prayed about is that I go to a team that actually wants me, that doesn't just pick me because I was the next best player on the board."
After coaching him the last four years, K-State head coach Bill Snyder has no doubt Lockett will not only get called on but also excel in the NFL.
"He'll get drafted. They're saying maybe the third round, but Tyler will surprise people when he gets there," said Snyder. "He'll be competitive, he'll work at it, he'll be a team guy, he'll go out and make everybody else that he practices with better, and he will make plays that will turn heads. I think he will do just fine."
Since his time playing for Snyder at K-State, Lockett has been keeping busy. From competing in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, to preparing for and attending the NFL Combine and K-State's Pro Day, Lockett has been enjoying his football-focused life.
"I'm not going to class or driving to workouts, everything is on my time now," he said. "I can do whatever I want. I don't have to worry about getting in trouble for anything because it's all on me. I don't get in trouble now if I miss a workout; it's on me."
While he said it's enjoyable, it takes a new work ethic to get up and go now. He doesn't have anyone telling him what to do. Though it's different, it's a lifestyle he said Snyder and K-State prepared him for.
"Everything (Coach Snyder) taught and instilled in us, that helped me for the times like this," said Lockett. "Being able to go out there and experience what it's like to really grind for something; I don't think many people know what it's like to grind for something and actually want it. At Kansas State, we had a lot of players who actually wanted it, and you could tell. You could tell when we won a game and you could tell when we lost a game, we wanted it.
"I think Coach Snyder tried to be a father figure for us. He tried to instill values and team rules that he wanted us to follow, and when you look back at everything, it helps you in the real world. Things like having conversations with people, building your brand, carrying yourself, presenting yourself. I think all of that helps you at the end of the day. So now I feel well prepared for the real world."
And for Lockett, the real world is approaching quickly.
The first round of the NFL Draft begins Thursday evening at 7 p.m., while rounds two and three will begin at 6 p.m., on Friday. The remaining four rounds are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., on Saturday.
"It's going to be different, but I'm ready for it," Lockett said about his future. "I think Kansas State has prepared me for this.
"And I always said," he continued before pausing and flashing his contagious smile, "if I can survive this, then I can survive anything."
K-State's head coach Bill Snyder embraces Tyler Lockett during Senior Day before the game against Kansas at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas on November 29, 2014. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)
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