Monroe grad and current San Francisco 49ers receiver Ricardo Lockette is moving into prime position to be a starter this season after star Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon this offseason. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Albany native and former Fort Valley State star Ricardo Lockette is one of a handful of receivers competing for a starting job with the San Francisco 49ers.
But the Monroe alum has something that no other receiver in the 49ers locker room has: a deep-rooted friendship with star quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
And it’s that relationship that might tilt the WR competition in Lockette’s favor.
“It’s almost like you go somewhere and you realize someone is your cousin, and since we met we have been inseparable,” Lockette said of Kaepernick while helping out during Saturday’s 8th annual Deion Branch Skills and Drills camp at Albany State University.
With 49ers star receiver Michael Crabtree’s 2013 season in jeopardy after recent surgery on a torn Achilles tendon, a starting WR job has opened up in San Francisco, and Lockette is considered one of the top contenders for the position, along with A.J. Jenkins and rookie Quinton Patton.
And Lockette not only has Kaepernick in his corner, but 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh called Lockette “special” even before Crabtree went down with an injury.
“There’s just something about (Lockette) that I’m really fired up about,” Harbaugh told Comcast SportsNet Bay Area in March. “He’s got something else to him, too, besides just the analytical size, strength, speed. There’s something special there. I just feel it.”
Lockette has made an impact in San Francisco since being signed by the team last September, and he has turned into the best friend of Kaepernick, who emerged as the starting QB last season and led the 49ers to an NFC Championship.
The friendship between Lockette and Kaepernick began during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, where the duo hit it off immediately.
“The first time we met was at the NFL Combine, and I was like, ‘Man, you can throw.’ Then he was like, ‘Man, you are fast,’ ” said Lockette, a Division II national champion in the 200-meter dash while at Fort Valley. “When I texted him last year and told him I was on my way to San Fran, he got really excited. When we saw each other we had this big hug like we grew up with each other.”
They grew even closer last year in San Francisco after Kaepernick offered Lockette a place to live for the remainder of the season. Then earlier this year, Kaepernick and Lockette bought a house together in San Francisco and spent part of the offseason training in Atlanta.
It’s a friendship that has made their on-the-field chemistry even stronger.
“The way he breaks down plays and just working one-on-one with him, it’s made me a different receiver,” Lockette said. “It’s like night and day just learning the playbook from someone you can totally relate to.”
They have learned how to have fun around the house, too.
“We do everything together,” Lockette said. “We have basketball goals around the house and bet each other with those. We play Madden and Call of Duty, but when we aren’t doing that we pop quiz each other about the playbook. I might be in the shower and he might walk by the bathroom and yell, ‘Hey, what do you have on Colorado 750?’ I will tell him a route, but if it’s wrong he will come in and throw something over the shower curtain.”
Lockette said his friendship with Kaepernick definitely won’t hurt his chances of making the team’s roster, and he still feels like the underdog heading into next month’s training camp.
“I am an underdog and come from a small school and Albany, Ga., so I am used to fighting from the bottom,” he said. “I am ready to just get it done and make every catch and every play as perfect as possible.”
Branch, a fellow Monroe grad and former Patriots receiver, said he believes Lockette won’t have any problems making an impact in San Francisco this season.
“The sky is the limit with Ricardo,” Branch said. “If he continues working and continues to do his thing, he will be OK.”
Lockette caught two passes his 2011 rookie season in Seattle — including one for a 61-yard touchdown — but had a hamstring injury during the Seahawks’ training camp last summer and didn’t make the team’s roster. He joined the 49ers midway through last season and spent most of the year on the practice squad, but his third season in the NFL might be his big breakout.
“I am just trying to step up. We have a couple of guys battling for Crabtree’s spot,” Lockette said. “My job is to make that decision easy for them, and I plan on doing that.
“It’s a battle, and it’s going to be day-to-day. I think the real test will come down during preseason and who makes the most plays. There are a lot of guys who can do it during practice, but can you do it in a game?”
His future is in San Francisco, but Lockette still keeps in touch with his former teammates in Seattle, where he initially signed as free agent after going undrafted in 2011.
“I still talk to my boys,” he said. “We tweet all the time and text all the time. They come over to my house (in San Francisco) and kick it with us. (Seattle running back) Marshawn (Lynch) has come over and hung with me and Kaepernick.”
The 49ers wrapped up their minicamp two weeks ago and are preparing for next month’s training camp, but Lockette took the weekend off from training to help Branch at his annual camp — a tradition that Lockette says he plans on continuing “as long as Deion keeps doing it.”
“Doing this for the kids is about letting them put a face and a voice with an athlete,” Lockette said. “Every time I get a chance to come back, I want to let them know that I am just like them. I came from the same place. I went to the same school. I played on the same football field.
“But at the same time, while I am out here right now, I am still focused on what I have to do for the season. As I go through the drills with these guys, I am still hearing my coaches telling me what to do, and then I am telling these kids what to do. So I am giving these kids a chance to learn what I am learning on the professional level.”