Even as a child, Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett has never been big.
It’s not surprising, then, to hear teammate and fellow Tulsa, Okla., native Dante Barnett tell the story of how he first met Lockett back in the fifth grade.
The coach of their Pop Warner team mentioned a third grader would be playing on the team, and Lockett happened to be the new kid that day at practice. Undersized even back then, Barnett and his teammates put two and two together, assuming Lockett was a third grader with fifth-grade talents.
“I was late coming to the team, and I was new at the place we were at, and the coach said they had a third grader on the team,” Lockett said. “And I just happened to walk out there, so they thought I was in the third grade. As of this day, we still don’t know who was in the third grade. They always thought it was me.”
Now a 5-foot-11 receiver for the Wildcats, Lockett has come into his own as K-State’s top receiving threat through four games. His best performance came in the loss to Texas when he broke Jordy Nelson’s single-game record for receiving yards with a 237-yard effort.
The junior has easily been quarterback Jake Waters’ top target, as his 29 catches are not only the most in the Big 12 conference, but are more than double any other Wildcats’ output. Among Big 12 receivers, only Baylor’s Antwan Goodley is averaging more receiving yards per game with 123.3, and Lockett is right behind with 117.2.
But Lockett’s legacy at K-State is more than just numbers.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Kevin Lockett, and uncle, Aaron Lockett, Tyler has found immediate success as a Wildcat because of his values.
“I think he’s a wonderful young man and tries to do everything right,” K-State head coach Bill Snyder said. “He has a very complete value system and he can run fast. He can catch the ball, and as I’ve said before, he has talent in a number of areas. I mentioned before that he likes poetry and can write poetry, so he’s a diversified young man and he’s good at all the things that he does.”
Reflecting on the three Locketts and their similarities, Snyder said the strong family background has helped all of them succeed, both at K-State and in life.
“I think that they are young people that genuinely care,” Snyder said. “They are great teammates and are very diversified. They are talented in many areas other than football. They have all been competitive on the field and have worked hard and done all the things that we have asked them to do. I could go on and on.”
Always well-spoken, polite and humble, Tyler Lockett is easy to cheer for. Ask him who the fastest player on the team is, defensive back Morgan Burns or him, and he knows the answer. Instead he fires a question back.
“What answers have you gotten so far?” he says. After a laugh from the crowd of reporters surrounding him, he reluctantly answers the question.
“According to the team, they say that I’m the fastest. I haven’t raced him since freshman year, and I told him I retired from racing.”
Changing the subject, a reporter asks if Lockett considers himself the best receiver in the league. He says he prefers to leave that up to others to discuss, though Barnett, who rooms with Lockett and has been close with him since their Pop Warner days in Tulsa, doesn’t think twice when asked the same question.
“He’s my best friend,” Barnett says, “I will always say he’s the best receiver in the league.”
After being elected by his teammates as one of five captains, Lockett is looked to more as a leader this season. Barnett said even though he’s an easygoing guy, he has what it takes.
“He might talk a little more once he gets to know somebody, but he’s the same laid-back, quiet Tyler all of the time,” Barnett said. “He loves to compete. He doesn’t like to lose. He’s not much of a vocal person, but his actions show a lot of him. That’s what makes me think so highly of Tyler.”
While the offense has clearly benefited from Lockett’s abilities as a deep-threat and a pass catcher, Snyder appreciates the little things he does.
“He stays within a system and executes what he’s supposed to do,” Snyder said. “I admire his blocking, probably as much as anything. That’s not meant as an oversight to his ability to catch the ball. He makes some really fine catches. Some of those catches he really had to extend himself to make some of them, and I admire that as well.
“But he takes seriously the concept of being a complete player. His efforts in the running game, I think are admirable as well. I appreciate that part of what he does.”
After two years playing for former K-State assistant Michael Smith, Lockett now answers to his replacement, former K-State receiver and NFL athlete Andre Coleman. Lockett said the advantages are numerous.
“He’s been where I want to be,” Lockett said. “I remember seeing a clip of him on YouTube and him just beating a guy who had a great angle against him. He knows speed, he’s teaching us everything that San Diego taught him when he was there. Being able to listen to him, he has the same skills that I have.
“Just being able to hear from him — to hear how he ran certain routes, or some of the little teaching things that he didn’t get until the NFL — just listening to him now and putting that into my game now will help a lot.”
During his college recruitment, neither of the Big 12 schools in Oklahoma had much interest in Lockett. He says he didn’t take it personally, instead focusing on the schools that wanted him.
“I was looking at whatever team was looking at me,” he said. “I know (Tulsa) was looking at me a little bit, and Iowa State they ended up offering me, and KU offered as well. I was just focused on the schools who were offering me.”
Lockett gets his chance to return to his home state of Oklahoma on Saturday to face Oklahoma State, a school that didn’t recruit him. While that’s likely a motivational factor for the junior, he says he’s just excited to play in front of a number of friends and family who don’t get the opportunity to come to Manhattan for games.
“It means a lot because you get to have a lot of your family members who may not make it to every single game come and visit you,” Lockett said of the trip. “Being able to go back and play as close to home as possible, I think that’s a great feeling and a great experience.”