TULSA — Tyler Lockett saw the football jerseys, the game photos and the newspaper clippings that were framed and hung on the back wall of his grandparents' house. Some were from his father's career. Some were from his uncle's.
He wondered where his pictures were.
“I want to be on The Wall, Papa John,” he told his grandfather one day.
John Lockett looked at the teenager with a twinkle in his eye.
“You haven't done anything, son,” he told him. “You're in junior high. There's gotta be some accomplishments before you get on The Wall.”
He was teasing.
Tyler was not.
“Well, it's not gonna be long,” he said. “I'll be up there.”
After four state titles at Tulsa Washington High and two outstanding seasons at Kansas State, Tyler has several spots on The Wall. For starters, between a No. 85 Jacksonville Jaguar jersey worn by his dad, Kevin, and a No. 14 San Francisco 49ers jersey worn by his uncle, Aaron, are collages celebrating the high school football and basketball titles that Tyler won as a senior at Booker T.
And as Tyler and the Wildcats prepare to return to his home state and face Oklahoma State on Saturday, Papa John gets that twinkle in his eye again.
“Tyler's a pretty determined young man,” he said. “He does some things sometimes that you don't think he can do.”
He is just the latest chapter in The Book of Lockett.
John Lockett was born and raised in Shelby, N.C., a small city with a big sports history. NBA Hall of Famer David Thompson grew up there. So did Bobby Bell, Pro Football Hall of Famer, and Floyd Patterson, heavyweight boxing champion.
Lockett played basketball and football and earned a basketball scholarship to St. Augustine's, a historically black college in Raleigh. He played against the likes of Earl Monroe and Walt Frazier.
He remembers sitting in the stands during a tournament the day Frazier scored 68 points and didn't miss a field-goal or free-throw attempt.
“Thank God we didn't have to play them that day,” Lockett said.
John was quite the player in his own right. Now in the hall of fame at St. Augustine's, he played a year of pro ball before knee injuries ended his career.
After serving in Vietnam, he made his way across the U.S. He was going to visit his mom in North Carolina, then heading to Philadelphia to start a job he had lined up with IBM. But when a longtime friend heard about his cross-country trip, she asked him to stop in Tulsa for a visit.
“I'm still here,” John said.
He married that friend in 1971, and John and Beatrice Lockett have been together ever since.
She worked for Shell Oil, he for Occidental Petroleum as a petroleum engineer, and in 1975, they welcomed a son, Kevin. Aaron came along four years later.
They lived in a four-bedroom house on Xyler Street on the far northwest edge of Tulsa. There was plenty of room to roam, a quiet street to ride a bike, a place to put a basketball goal and a space to throw a football in the backyard.
The Lockett boys took to all sorts of sports, but their parents had one hard-and-fast rule.
“We tried to instill into our children that education was always first,” Beatrice said.
John said, “You get your books, and you can play.”
And play, they did.
Basketball. Baseball. Football. Track. They excelled in the Tulsa youth leagues, then at Booker T.
Recruiters came first for Kevin — a stellar grade-point average made him even more attractive — and by his sophomore year, he realized where his future was.
“It was very clear to me by the letters that I was getting that I could be better at football,” he said. “A bunch of Division Is for football and a bunch of smaller schools for basketball.”
Kevin had all but made up his mind that he was going to SMU. He wanted to major in accounting, and the accounting department there was outstanding.
Then, he decided to take one more recruiting visit to K-State.
The trip changed everything.
John Lockett picked up Kevin from the airport after his K-State visit.
John and Beatrice decided that they wanted Kevin to go on recruiting trips by himself. They wanted him to make his own impressions. They didn't want to influence him.
As John drove home, Kevin was uncharacteristically quiet.
Finally, John broke the silence.
“Well, how was the trip?” he asked.
“You know what, Daddy?” Kevin said. “I like Kansas State.”
“Really? What did you like?”
“I liked the accounting department. I liked the school. I really liked Coach Snyder.”
Bill Snyder had only been at K-State a short time, taking over a program widely considered the worst in Division-I football history. Even though the Wildcats were showing signs of coming out of many dark decades, a winning record seemed a long ways off, much less bowl games or conference titles.
But Snyder had said something that resonated with Kevin.
“I'm going to build a program here,” the coach said. “I'm going to be here for the duration. I want you to be a part of that program.”
When John and Kevin got home, they called Snyder. Several K-State coaches made a home visit a few days later.
Not long after, Kevin committed to the Wildcats.
“I don't think he could've made a better choice,” John said.
In Snyder, John and Beatrice saw a man who had many of the same values that they did. Solid academics were vital. High character was mandatory. Hard work was demanded.
Kevin excelled in that system. He became K-State's all-time leading receiver with 217 catches and 3,032 yards, records that still stand today.
Things went so well for Kevin that Aaron decided to follow in his brother's purple footsteps.
While he had a completely different style — shorter but faster than Kevin, Aaron was more of a multithreat player — he had similarly outstanding results. In K-State history, he ranks fourth in receiving (2,400 yards) and second in punt return yards (845).
Along the way, the Locketts were part of the Manhattan Miracle. K-State became a doormat no more, going to a bowl game every season that the Lockett brothers were Wildcats.
And John and Beatrice saw all but two of the games that Kevin and Aaron played for K-State. There were trips to Boulder, Colo., and San Diego and Lubbock, Texas, and Phoenix and Manhattan, Kan.
Lots and lots of trips to Manhattan.
The Locketts would take Highway 75 north, maybe make a stop at the Casey's Convenience Store in Yates Center or Burlington, then head west when they got to Topeka. It was exactly 4½ hours door to door.
“We always told them we were there for them,” John said. “We didn't want to tell them that and not be there.”
Kevin said, “Any kid who plays college football wants to have support, so to know that my parents were always going to physically be at every game meant a lot.”
Now, another generation is at K-State, but that Lockett family support continues.
About the time Tyler got on The Wall at Papa John and Mama B's house for the first time, recruiters started taking notice. He was focused like his dad, speedy like his uncle and tenacious like his mom.
(John says Nicole Edwards, Tyler's mom, was one of the greatest athletes he ever coached. A sprinter, she had a refuse-to-lose attitude that made her almost unbeatable.)
Many colleges were interested in Tyler, but because of his last name, most assumed he was headed to K-State.
“I knew he liked Kansas State,” Papa John said, “but I thought in the end, because his daddy and uncle went there, he'd pick somewhere else.”
He shook his head.
“He bled purple.”
Both Tyler's dad and granddad worried about the expectations that would come with playing receiver and wearing a K-State jersey with the name LOCKETT on the back. And when Snyder called them and told them he was thinking about not redshirting Tyler, the worry grew.
In a sign that Snyder respects the Locketts as much as they respect him, the coach asked Kevin and Papa John to come to Manhattan and watch a preseason scrimmage to see what they thought about Tyler playing as a true freshman.
They watched amazed as he made one play after another and looked like the best receiver on the field at times, then they had to laugh when an assistant coach told them that it wasn't Tyler's best day.
They knew he was ready.
As a freshman, Tyler amassed nearly a thousand all-purpose yards despite missing the last few games of the season. He suffered a lacerated kidney in K-State's 52-45 loss at OSU, a thriller of a game.
He was part of the reason it was thrilling, racking up 315 all-purpose yards.
He had another big game against the Cowboys last season, including a Quinn-Sharp-befuddling 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Tyler (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) recently moved into the top 10 of K-State's career all-purpose yards list. In the process, he passed his dad.
Another thousand yards or so — a mark that's totally reachable if the junior stays healthy — and he'll take over the top spot and pass his uncle Aaron along the way.
The Lockett legacy is alive and well.
“I think it's very special,” Tyler said. “Being able to be a part of the Lockett family ... it means a lot. I come from a great family on and off the field, a family who cares for other people, who is not selfish. That's something I cherish.
“I thank God that I was actually brought up in the family that I was brought up in.”
Snyder is a big fan, too.
“Wonderful, wonderful people,” he said. “Each of them are quality young men of tremendous character. Work habits are excellent. They have all the intrinsic values that you deem important in having success on or off the field.”
No word on whether Snyder, who sent a congratulatory note earlier this season to North Dakota State's quarterback, sends Christmas cards to the family that has kept his football program stocked with receivers.
Here's betting he does.
Thing is, the Locketts believe they should be the ones saying thanks.
Kevin went on to a seven-year career in the NFL and now works in Kansas City, where he has a charitable foundation and is beloved as a former Wildcat and Chief.
Aaron spent two seasons on NFL practice squads before playing three seasons in the Canadian Football League. Now he works in Houston, using a connection made through Wildcat football to get his first job.
Who knows where K-State football could take Tyler?
“We are so proud of them,” Mama B said. “This is a journey we would not trade for anything.”
She and Papa John are still going to the K-State games. They have seen every one that Tyler has played, and they plan to see another one Saturday.
Even though the season has gotten off to a disappointing start, Tyler has been a dazzling bright spot. He had 13 catches for 237 yards in a loss to Texas two weeks ago, staking his claim as the best receiver in the Big 12. Have a few more games like that, and he could make a run at the Biletnikoff Award.
That might earn him another spot on The Wall.
No one would be happier about that the Locketts who he would replace.
“That's the way it's supposed to go,” Kevin said. “We're supposed to share whatever knowledge we have with him so that he has the ability to be more successful than we were.”
And Tyler might not be the last one. Kevin has three more boys, a 9-year-old and 5-year-old twins.
The 9-year-old has already asked about The Wall.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.