It was an emotional scene outside of the K-State locker room after all was said and done on the field at the Alamodome Friday.
Dead silence filled the hallway as all of the Wildcat players waited quietly to take off their jerseys, some for the last time this season and, for others, the last time ever.
The players filed out, some with eyes red and cheeks wet with tears. Others, blank slates of emotion still trying to process everything that had just transpired.
But as the doors of the locker room closed to outsiders, one Wildcat was still unaccounted for.
Senior wide receiver Tyler Lockett was that Wildcat. He was still on the field, standing in front of a celebrating crowd of blue and yellow to accept the Fred Jacoby Sportsmanship Award.
Not long after that, Lockett walked into the tunnel as confetti cannons and balloons fell on the victor Bruins and their fans in the stands. Lockett’s team walked away with a loss, yes, but the receiver exceeded expectations, as he’s done all season.
The only difference this time? It was his final game.
In the 22-year history of the Alamo Bowl, only Tyler Lockett has most receptions (13) and all-purpose yards (249) in the game. To put that into perspective, that’s more than any of the other players on 43 teams that have played in the Alamo Bowl.
To add to the feat, no other Wildcat has equaled what Lockett did Friday night against UCLA. He hauled in 164 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and was a holding penalty away from scoring a beautiful punt return.
All of it was just the exclamation point on a season and career that has made Lockett not only one of the greatest receivers in K-State history, but one of the greatest players to ever don the purple and white.
Lockett owns all three of the major career records for a wide receiver; first in career receptions, first in receiving yards and, yes, first in receiving touchdowns. He’s also top-five in the same three categories for a single season, including second in receptions and yards.
The stats don’t stop at K-State, either. Lockett’s 6,586 career all-purpose yards is good for third in Big 12 history, trailing only K-State great Darren Sproles and former Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray.
There have been a lot of great players that have put up a lot of great numbers at K-State, but none have been so great at as may different things as Lockett. And not many have gone about in the exemplary way that he has done it.
“You know, it’s been a honor to play with Tyler Lockett,” fellow senior Ryan Mueller said after the game. “Phenomenal athlete, phenomenal person. Just a total workhorse for this university.”
Ask any other player on K-State’s roster and you’ll get a similar response. You’re impressed by his play, but even more by his character. He’s a player who cares about doing things the right way every time.
“(Lockett) works as hard as anybody can possibly work,” head coach Bill Snyder said. “He stays after practice. He does everything he can to try to get himself better. He’s a wonderful person. He cares about his teammates. He’s a great family man.”
That’s extremely high praise coming from the man who has the word “family” next to his own name on a stadium in Manhattan.
Lockett’s team may have gone out on a loss, but Tyler Lockett, the player, and Tyler Lockett, the person, went out on top. The way that he played, graceful but dominant in defeat, showed the Alamo Bowl officials enough to award him with the sportsmanship award.
Even in postgame comments, it was never about him. It was about the team. It was about thanking the Alamo bowl officials for their hospitality this past week. There is no “I’ in team and there is no “I” in Tyler Lockett.
In a couple of months down the road, Lockett, along with several other of his K-State teammates, will have their chance at being drafted or at least making some kind of NFL roster.
It’s not known if, and how, his skills will translate to the “big time,” but one thing is for certain: he has plenty of value as another undersized, speedy K-State player who will do whatever it takes to help his team win.
Darren Sproles has shown the NFL the value of guys like that, and Eagles head coach Chip Kelly looked like a smart man picking up his contract after the Saints dropped him last offseason.
Of course, Tyler Lockett probably wasn’t thinking about that Friday night. He’s not thinking about pro days, agents or what team’s jersey he’d like to wear next year.
His thoughts now are with his team, the people he called his brothers in front of 10,000 K-State fans at the Alumni Association pep rally earlier this week.
It’s that same team mentality that will have fans forever remembering one of K-State’s most special players, on and off the field, for years and years to come.
“Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat,” Lockett smiled and said as he left the Alamodome Friday.