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Timeout with Jeff Locke: Specialist Supports Troops & 'Star Wars'

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Punter Jeff Locke's commitment to soldiers and veterans is deeply personal. Locke was born at a U.S. Army hospital in Frankfurt, Germany during his father's career in the Air Force. Experiences in Locke's early days helped shape who he is.

Locke spent part of his youth in Kansas and part in Arizona before attending UCLA. He was selected by the Vikings in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft and has been committed to supporting fundraisers to benefit Tee It Up for the Troops, as well as visiting the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

Q: What values does your father have from his time in the service that carried over to you?

A: I think in general, the discipline that comes with being in the military. Some of that kind of carries over to the regimen that you need playing a sport. I think that's the biggest thing I took away from him, just kind of seeing him get up at the crack of dawn and be in charge of other people and seeing how he functioned so efficiently in that life and also the sacrifices that he and my mom made to have that military life, moving around and everything. It kind of instills a certain type of discipline and work ethic that I tried to emulate from him.

Q: What's it like to have some really cool ways to support soldiers?

A: It's so much fun. A lot of the research coming out on service members coming back shows they benefit from being in activity. You want to stay active and be engaged with people that have kind of been through what you've been through. I think having an organization like Tee It Up for the Troops, where we can raise money for people that need it, families of people in the military and people coming back that need certain types of services, I think it's great. I have a lot of fun interacting with the vets out there and seeing them light up. I get just as much out of it as they do.

Q: You also visit the VA each year. Is that a special moment?

A: You really can't put yourself in their shoes and what they've been through. It's hard for me to imagine what they might have seen or gone through in their service, so the best thing we can do is not only donate money, but also spend time with them. You kind of don't realize what just a small part of your day can mean to this person. It might help them get through a moment if they have a struggle later that week, year or day. I think it's a bigger effect than you know at the moment.

Q: It seems like you're always working on something. Is all of that assigned or are you doing extra?

A: I definitely do everything that's assigned, but I do kind of go out of my way to research different types of things to talk to specialists in certain areas about how I can improve little parts of my game or life. I think to stay in this league at this high of a level, you can't just do bare bones. You can't just do what's expected and get out of here every day. There's always little things that you take along the way and parts of your game to keep improving. You can't ever just rest on what you've done.

Q: Do you think your extra work impresses teammates?

A: I think it doesn't matter unless you perform on the field, kind of in that sense, but I think when certain teammates see me working and doing extra stuff in here and see me perform on the field, they can kind of make that connection and kind of see some of the stuff that Jeff did on his own and what he does to get prepared every week kind of carries over to how he's doing on the field. I think when teammates see me doing stuff while they're in meetings, they might not appreciate it because they're watching all the film. I obviously don't have a big playbook to memorize, so I try to utilize my free time during the day and do other things so that I can improve my punting.

Q: You guys have been in sync with the punting and coverage, allowing 40 total punt return yards in seven games.

A: It's been very impressive. A lot of it is Coach (Mike Priefer) and that punt team and Coach (Ryan) Ficken, too. Our gunner play has been unbelievable: (Marcus) Sherels, Trae Waynes, Captain (Munnerlyn) coming in there. Not only is Sherels probably one of the best punt returners in the league, but I think he's the best gunner in the league, so they definitely make my job a little bit easier. I definitely have been the most consistent this year of my three. There's still a couple of punts I want back like this last game in Chicago, I want my first punt back. I've got to keep working on that consistency because that's the best way to help my teammates get down there and cover or get in the spots they need to be, for me to match up that hang time and distance every time.

Q: You held for Blair's game-winner at Chicago. What's it like to have a role in that play?

A: It's awesome. It's crazy how easy [long snapper] Kevin (McDermott) made it. Not only that one, but the PAT before to tie it up. I caught the ball and set it down. Especially in a place like Chicago where the winds kind of swirl, you never know. He was just rock solid and made my job extremely easy, which makes Blair's job a little easier to execute when the ball is sitting there for him. It was a great moment, a lot of fun because everyone floods from the sideline and you're just finding anyone you can to celebrate with.

You pointed it out, the tying PAT was also a pressure kick. It's only 3 yards shorter.

Yeah, those PATs aren't PATs anymore, especially in a place like Chicago or later in the year when the weather starts turning. That's a 33-yard field goal and you've got to treat it that way. You've got to respect it, and I think we definitely do that as a unit.

Q: How does your past kicking background help you work with Blair?

A: I think Blair is so good at his technique and stuff, I don't even try to touch that. He's way ahead of anything I ever was as a kicker, but it helps me with my holding because I know that the slightest variations of my tilt or how the ball is, or getting the ball down quickly so he can see it longer, I understand how much that can affect his performance so I really try to emphasize those things and make it look exactly the same every time so it's easier for him.

Q: Has playing home games outdoors last year and this year made you a more complete punter?

A: That's a really great question. I definitely think, looking back at UCLA and what I had to play in, which was not extremely difficult in terms of weather, we had a couple of games each year up north, and then coming in here and developing as a punter, which I really have these last two-and-a-half years, I definitely think I'm more complete. A lot of situations with winds, weather, points in the game, when I was a younger punter, I would have had no idea how to mentally get through it, and now I've been through it and understand what I need to do in that moment, I think it helps increase the confidence level, seeing all these different types of scenarios and conditions. I definitely think I'm a much more complete punter than when I first showed up.

Q: Left-footed punters seem to be a growing trend. Was there someone that worked with you that was also a lefty?

A: I'm the only lefty in my family. I think my grandfather might have been left handed, but my immediate family, everyone else was right handed. There's different people out there that say it's genetic. Some people say you just kind of see it once, see someone do it at the right time in your life and start doing it that way. I'm not sure why I did it, but it definitely made school a little more difficult with all the righty desks. I always had to wash my hands twice a day with all the pencil lead smeared all over the place.

It seems to be an advantage because so few people have experience returning lefties. There were two muffs in the Chicago game.

The first punt wasn't a good punt. It got hit by the wind and the wind said, 'You're not going anywhere.' So when it's windy and the ball doesn't turnover, those punts are extremely hard to catch because the wind is hitting more of the surface of the ball and it's moving it everywhere. The next punt was into the wind again, which I was planning on for that one because I was trying to keep it from having a touchback. That ball was moving so much coming down and it has that lefty spin, the opposite of a righty spin.

Q: What's it like to be teammates with former Bruins Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Mike Harris and Kevin McDermott?

A: It's really cool watching the game from the sideline. I play 15 plays a game and get to watch these guys most of the game. It's a little extra special when you see one of those guys making a play, like Kendricks making a big tackle, Barr making a sack, or Mike stonewalling his guy. Then I get to catch snaps from Kevin all day. It really is kind of cool seeing those guys succeed on the field. 'I've been watching this guy for years.' You know these guys a little better than you know some of your other teammates just because you've been with them so long.

Q: Flipside of that, is it tough or weird to see Everson Griffen and the USC guys do their thing?

A: No, I didn't really play against Everson too much. It's tough sometimes talking to Rhett (Ellison) because he was part of the team that beat UCLA 50 to nothing.

Q: I hear you're a Star Wars movie buff and have had tickets reserved for quite some time.

A: I'm excited for it. I think it's kind of cool movie history event because you've got so many people seeing the new movies — my generation, and you've got my parents or even people a little younger than my parents that were in the theaters seeing the originals and blown away by those because back then those graphics were just like, 'Oh, my gosh.' That was kind of the introduction to space movies. It's cool seeing the blend of generations get excited for this movie. I hope it's great.

Q: You're all-in on convincing Blair it's one he should see?

A: After that stuff came out about me liking Star Wars, I've gotten a lot of information from Star Wars fans via Twitter on how to exactly watch the movies, so I've got my educational game plan set for Blair on exactly how we're going to go about watching them. I've got to spread it out. I can't overwhelm him. They're such awesome movies. You can't put it all in a couple of days. Probably four or five weeks out, we'll start watching one a week to kind of get him going. I'll steal his phone and say you've got to focus on the movie.

Q: Which character would you be if you had your choice?

A: That's a tough one. I would say Luke just because he's got the force power. It's so sweet, but I'd probably say Han Solo, just the freedom, I mean having the Falcon, the fastest ship in the galaxy, plus Chewy is pretty cool too, so I might go Solo. Plus, he's got Leia too. Kind of win-win.

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