When Jason Stewart met Kerry Locklin for the first time in 2000, one thought came to mind:
"An old country boy," Stewart said, the nose tackle perhaps expecting a more folksy relationship with his position coach at Fresno State.
Not even close.
Stewart and others discovered what Locklin was there to do as the new man in charge of the Bulldogs' defensive line: teach with passion.
"The way he coaches, he yells at you," said Stewart, who played for the Arena League's San Jose Sabercats this past season. "The way he comes at you is very aggressive, but I know what he wanted as a man and I'm reaping the benefits as we speak: Work hard, be on time and be respectful. He taught us all that stuff."
Locklin, 54, parlayed nine years at Fresno State into a shot at an NFL job in 2009. That didn't work out, but now he's back in town for a second stint on the staff of Fresno City College head coach Tony Caviglia, coaching linebackers and appreciating a chance to continue molding young talent.
"I'm blessed to be back with Coach C and helping them out," said Locklin, also on the staff in 2011. "Helping them develop to become the players they've got a chance to become and move on to the next level that's what it's about."
Stewart learned first-hand the bigger message Locklin has tried to send.
"Everything he taught us is what we needed in real life, not just football, but discipline and technique," Stewart said. "If you don't work hard then you're pretty much going to be where you're at today and that's nothing. If you don't go to college, you have nothing."
Current Rams linebacker Nate Palomino agrees.
"He talks about being dependable on the field because the whole team is counting on you to do your job and he relates it to real life," he said. "Just as if you had a family, or in a career other than football, people are depending on you to do your job. And if you aren't dependable or accountable, you aren't going to be successful."
Caviglia, whose Rams (4-2, 1-0 Valley Conference) play Saturday at American River, didn't hesitate to rehire Locklin after a summer internship with the San Diego Chargers.
"We told him, 'We like your presence,' " Caviglia said. "He has a great presence on and off the field with our coaches and obviously with our players.
"We love to have him around, but we know he wants a full-time coaching job. We're here just to take advantage of his knowledge until he's ready to move on."
That chance figures to come again for Locklin, a first-team All-State linebacker as a Texas high schooler in 1977 and an All-America tight end at New Mexico State.
In the NFL, he was a sixth-round pick by the Los Angeles Rams in 1982. He's also coached with the Sabercats and in the United Football League. The 2009 job with the New York Jets lasted six games before friend and coach Rex Ryan was forced into changes amid a 1-5 start, but Locklin keeps landing on his feet and twice the Rams have benefited.
"He makes sure we perfect the little things which translate into games," Palomino said. "He knows so much about the game, breaking down film and understanding tendencies that helps put our defense one step ahead."
Locklin plans to "keep doing what I like to do."
"It's been a blessing," he said. "Not just fun, but been a blessing doing what you like to do. An old saying goes: 'Living a dream.' You live the dream and enjoy that dream."
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