Former Fort Valley State football and track star Ricardo Lockette — an Albany native and Monroe alum — is interviewed during Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday in New Orleans. Lockette, who has been relegated to San Francisco’s practice squad all season since being signed off waivers in late September by the 49ers, ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL combine and is arguably the fastest guy on the team. He has been used this week to simulate the speed and routes of Ravens wideout Torrey Smith in preparation for Sunday’s game.
NEW ORLEANS — When the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens kick off Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, Albany native and former Monroe star Ricardo Lockette likely won’t suit up on San Fran’s 53-man roster.
But if the 49ers win, he will most certainly get some of the credit.
Lockette, who was signed as a rookie free agent by the Seattle Seahawks after running the fastest time for a wideout at the 2011 NFL combine, was released by the team earlier this season and immediately picked up by the 49ers. And while Lockette — who is roommates with San Francisco star quarterback Colin Kaepernick — has been relegated to the practice squad ever since and hasn’t seen any game action this year, he has been integral to the franchise’s preparation this week.
Lockette, who is arguably the fastest guy on the 49ers’ roster, has been asked to play the role of Ravens speedy wideout Torrey Smith this week, simulating Smith’s routes and quick bursts upfield. Lockette even gave up his No. 18 jersey and slipped on Smith’s No. 82 to make the simulation as realistic as possible.
At 6-foot-2, 211 pounds with blazing speed, Lockette — a former NCAA Division II national champion in the 200-meter dash at Fort Valley State — is as close as it gets to Smith, who is listed at 6-feet, 205 pounds.
And 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh singled out Lockette as one of the keys to this week’s preparation.
“Outstanding (practice) by our scout team players ... Our young players, our future starters on future championship teams have progressed, and it’s been wonderful,” Harbaugh said. “(In particular), Ricardo Lockette was outstanding. He was flying around the field. Ricardo Lockette, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Cam Johnson and Al Netter are four guys that had a chance to go to other teams during the season.
“They got offers to be brought up to other teams’ 53 (man roster) but chose to stay with the San Francisco 49ers.”
When Lockette learned of his coach’s praise, he expressed a humble appreciation and added that he was glad to help out in any way he could.
“It’s pretty cool,” Lockette said. “I appreciate it. There’s a couple other places where you could possibly be and you’re treated like an outcast or like someone that doesn’t matter. I appreciate being a part of this team. That’s part of the reason that I’m still here. Because it’s a family environment, and everybody treats everybody the same.”
Unlike most NFL teams, the 49ers take their practice squad players with them everywhere, including both of San Francisco’s playoff wins — 45-31 rout of the Green Bay Packers and a 28-24 victory against the Atlanta Falcons — en route to the Super Bowl.
Lockette and his practice squad teammates, such as linebacker Nathan Stupar, recognize how special the opportunity is to contribute individually to a larger team goal — even if they likely won’t see the field Sunday.
“I don’t know any other team that actually travels their practice squad to away games,” Stupar said. “I was at the Atlanta Falcons game. It just really helps you connect with the team and doesn’t put you off to the side. It really makes you feel like family.”
An unlikely duo, Lockette and Kaepernick — the 49ers’ rookie quarterback sensation — have become as close as family since they started rooming together after Lockette joined the squad Sept. 24 following his cut by the Seahawks a week earlier.
They’ve developed such a close relationship, Lockette was even spotted poking fun at his bunkmate during Media Day in New Orleans on Tuesday. As reporters stood nearby asking Kaepernick questions, Lockette showed up, leaned down and kissed his tattooed biceps — a move the QB now does after each touchdown he scores. It’s been dubbed by the media as “Kaepernicking” and has become famous during the playoffs. (Think Tim Tebow’s “Tebowing” move made famous during the Denver Broncos’ playoff run last year).
The display drew a huge laugh from Kaepernick, who Lockette says deserves all the attention he’s gotten this season.
“I’ve watched him go from us going to Wal-Mart or gas stations with no one noticing us, to we can’t get out of the car, or we have to pull off at the red light because people are following us,” Lockette told the L.A. Times during an interview earlier this week. “Here’s one: We’re walking down Bourbon Street as soon as we get here. And you know how the fans come out and they’ve got the helmets and stuff? This guy starts following us, walking and talking like, ‘Can you sign this? Can you sign this?’ And — boom! — the guy runs right into a lamppost. Helmets are flying in the air. It was the funniest thing.”
Lockette — who now holds the distinction of being just the second Albany native to ever play in the Big Game (behind fellow Monroe alum Deion Branch’s three appearances with the New England Patriots) — said he and Kaepernick talk often about the quarterback’s quick rise to fame. Lockette said he has nothing but admiration for what Kaepernick’s done.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Lockette, 26, of Kaepernick, 25. “It’s every young man’s dream to be idolized by other kids, especially fans. I don’t think (the fame has) changed his personality, who he is or what he stands for.”
Lockette, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds at the 2011 NFL combine, had a strong chance to get called up at the start of the postseason, but the 49ers instead went with fellow practice squad wideout Chad Hall, a fellow Georgia native who starred at Norcross High School. If the 49ers make any last-minute roster moves before Sunday, it’s widely believed Hall — a second-year player like Lockette — will get the nod. Hall has played in 15 games in two years and has caught 14 passes, two for touchdowns.
Lockette, meanwhile, has just two career catches in the NFL — both with the Seahawks. He hauled in a 44-yard reception in a close loss to — ironically — the 49ers last December, as well as a 61-yard touchdown grab in an overtime loss against the Arizona Cardinals last January.
But while he will likely be an onlooker Sunday when the 49ers take the field against the Ravens, Lockette will no doubt be active on Twitter before and after — his handle is @RicardoLockette — just like he has been all season.
And in one of his most recent tweets, he made sure to give a shout out to those back home in Georgia rooting on his team Sunday.
“I want to send a S/O to FVSU, MHS, 229, Burke Co., East Atl, & ALBANY, Ga!” Lockette wrote.
Information from 49ers.com and the L.A. Times was used in this report