Monroe’s Ricardo Lockette ran a 4.37 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine — the fastest for a receiver — but still went undrafted. He was eventually signed by the Seahawks, who cut him last year. Lockette was then picked up by the 49ers, who then cut him Thursday. (Herald file photo)
SEATTLE — As Ricardo Lockette sat on the Seattle Seahawks’ private plane with his teammates Friday, waiting for it — and his career — to finally take off, he was asked to explain his thoughts at that very moment.
And after a long, deep breath, he somehow found the words.
“It’s just ... it’s just been a long ride, man ...” Lockette told The Herald before trailing off. “And I hope it’s only the beginning.”
Folks back home in Albany hope so too.
Lockette, the former Monroe and Fort Valley football and track star, had been waiting for the call all season ever since being signed to a three-year deal by the Seahawks in July — and Tuesday it came during, of all times, a dentist appointment.
“Once I got that news, man, my life ... I can’t explain it. Best day of my life,” the 6-foot-2, 211-pounder said of the news he got from Seattle GM John Schneider that he was no longer a practice squad receiver, but instead had been called up to the team’s active roster for today’s 1 p.m. showdown with the Chicago Bears.
Lockette, the 22-year-old former NCAA Division II 200-meter national champ who surprisingly was not selected in April’s NFL Draft — despite posting one of the most jaw-dropping workouts at the combine that saw him run the fastest 40 time of any receiver, and fourth-fastest overall — admittedly teared up on the spot after finding out his dream was about to come true.
After all, he wasn’t sure if the call was ever going to come following inconsistent play in the preseason that saw him haul in just one catch for 16 yards, then promptly being placed on the practice squad, where he’s been for the last four months.
But Lockette never gave up hope.
“In the NFL, you have to have a short memory and you can’t live in the past. I didn’t think about (what happened that got me put on the practice squad), only what I could do to make it back on the team,” he said. “It hasn’t been too tough because every day I wake up feeling privileged just to be here in this position — being from a small school like Fort Valley among the USCs, Miamis and Auburns — and just having a chance to play on the big stage. The last two weeks, I didn’t have a single dropped pass in practice — I think I had something like 350 straight catches — and the coaches saw that my football knowledge was finally catching up to my athletic ability.”
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll certainly noticed. In fact, Carroll spent nearly three minutes of his weekly press conference with reporters talking about just how far the kid they call “The Rocket” had come.
“We have filled a vacancy. Ricardo Lockette has been moved up. The Rocket is coming up and we’re happy to make that move,” Carroll said. “He’s been practicing like crazy and working like he’s been part of the roster (the whole time) ... He’s been a surprising guy in a number of ways. We weren’t surprised by his great speed. We saw him at the combine and thought he had one of the best workouts at the combine for a guy that came out of nowhere and caught very few balls in college. And we kind of set our sights on him and said, ‘Let’s see if we can get this guy.’
“And then we nailed him (down). We thought it was a pretty special (signing).”
Lockette, who only tallied 23 catches for 262 yards and one touchdown with a 24-yard kick-return average during his senior year at FVSU, said Friday it was the support of his teammates that helped keep his spirits high and thoughts positive during his extended time on the practice squad.
“Man, within 20 minutes of (getting the call up), almost everyone on the offense started calling me and texting me because I’ve really developed friendships with these guys, and they’ve been pulling for me,” said Lockette, who then paused as some of his teammates sitting near him on the plane began cheering for him in the background. “Guys were congratulating me left and right, like (starting quarterback) Tarvaris (Jackson), (starting running back) Marshawn (Lynch), (starting receiver) Mike Williams and one of my best friends here, (starting receiver) Doug Baldwin. It’s really felt like a coming out party.”
Now, Carroll said, it’s time to see what Lockette can do.
“When we got him here, we found out he could really catch the football. He’s got very natural hands (like a receiver should),” said Carroll, who then added that Lockette, however, is still a work in progress. “He’s still got a long way to go to get connected to the game on this level. It’s taken us a while (working with him) but he’s getting closer and doing a lot of good things. He makes plays all the time in practice. And he’s kind of one our favorites ... we’re real excited to give him that chance to get that much closer to playing.”
Lockette will be the sixth receiver on the depth chart today against the Bears, as well as the backup to kick returner Leon Washington.
But the Rocket said if his number is called, he’ll be ready.
“I’m not quite sure about my playing time (today). We’ll just see how the game goes,” he said of the road contest against Chicago, which has lost three in a row, while Seattle has won four of its last five. “I just know they’re bringing me into a big pressure situation and I have to be ready — and I will be.
“Everything you do is about confidence. If you believe you can do it. I honestly believe that now.”
Lockette said he’s left practice every day recently feeling like he was close to getting the call.
“I’ve been playing a role up until now, and that’s OK,” he said. “I’ve just been getting my reps in and hoping I’d be fortunate enough to get the call. And I knew that when the time came, I needed to be ready to take advantage of it.”
Carroll said the Seahawks’ organization is “fired up” to see Lockette play.
“(Ricardo) is real excited and I know the team is fired up for him because he’s tried so hard and given such a great effort to get here,” the coach said. “He’s really been a great prospect for us — a guy we’ve been excited about since we first saw him. He’s come miles and miles to get to this point.”
When Lockette suits up today, he’ll be the third Albany native currently playing in the NFL, joining fellow Monroe grad Deion Branch (New England Patriots) and Dougherty High alum Darryl Smith (Jacksonville Jaguars).
Lockette said he plans to make his city proud — and live up to the Rocket nickname that he hopes will strike fear in NFL defenses once they get a glimpse of his speed.
“It’s stuck with me this far so I don’t have a choice but to live up to it,” he said. “And while I’m on the field, I want everyone back home to know I’m gonna go out and represent Albany and Monroe High School to the best of my abilities.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.