The phone call that Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman recently made to Ramona and James Locke Jr. was and still is unprecedented in his time in Austin.
Their son, PJ, a junior cornerback, had been receiving so much praise in the staff’s weekly academic meetings that Herman felt the need to praise the Locke’s for how they raised the 5’11, 215 pounder.
“PJ Locke definitely is the first, and only set of parents that I’ve actually called to personally thank them for sending us a marvelous human being,” Herman said on Monday. “He’s a great leader. I don’t know if the kid can play football or not, but he’s a very vocal leader on the field out there in all of those drills, and then we literally have an academic meeting every single week, once a week, usually on Thursdays, where we go over every single kid in front of the whole staff, and for the last three weeks, I mean, it’s been glowing reviews for him.
“So I picked up the phone and called his mom, called his dad and said, thank you for raising such a good son.”
Had Herman put on the film from last season, he would have found that Locke can indeed play football.
Good genes help — his father played defensive back for Oklahoma State and his mother, now a coach and teacher in Beaumont, was a high school point guard.
Off the field, PJ graduated magna cum laude from Central High School after maintaining a 3.85 GPA and finishing No. 21 in a class of 375 students.
A high school track star, Locke also excelled on the football field, playing safety, linebacker, and cornerback for Toby Foreman and recording seven interceptions as a senior with 10 pass break ups.
While the recruiting services probably didn’t pay enough attention to Locke, especially after his big senior season, eventually ranking him as a consensus mid three-star prospect, he did rack up 35 offers.
Following a visit to Eugene in the summer of 2014, Locke committed to Oregon and maintained that pledge even after receiving an offer from Texas on February 1. By February 3, however, Locke decided to remain close to home by flipping his pledge to the Longhorns.
Credit former defensive coordinator Vance Bedford for his persistence in recruiting his home town.
"The thing about this whole process, whenever Coach Bedford would go out recruiting in Beaumont, he'd go by and sell and say 'you never know what will happen,'“ Charlie Strong said on National Signing Day in 2015.
Of course, it helped that Locke had grown up a fan of the ‘Horns — he even had a “Hook ‘em” banner in his room.
With more experienced players like Dylan Haines and Jason Hall occupying the safety position in 2015, Locke mostly contributed on special teams before earning his first career start against Baylor amid numerous injury issues for Texas.
Early in the game against the Bears, Locke forced a fumble by Baylor quarterback Chris Johnson with a big hit that knocked Johnson out of the game with a concussion. Texas recovered and scored for a 17-0 lead that Baylor could never surmount. Locke finished the game with seven tackles (five solo) and a tackle for loss.
The self-professed gym rat used that performance to build towards an even bigger role in the 2016 season — he started nine games at nickel back, helping upset Notre Dame in the opener with a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss and intercepting passes against Baylor and West Virginia. Against Kansas, he broke up three passes.
So while there might not yet be a depth chart and Herman doesn’t know whether Locke will be the starter at the nickel position once again, he is the incumbent and should win the job over fellow junior John Bonney.
And when Texas travels to Waco on October 28, Baylor quarterback Zach Smith would be well-advised to know where Locke is at all times.
The good son is developing quite a reputation as a Bear killer.