MANHATTAN — Football is the opposite of poetry. One is filled with violence and is meant to be observed by thousands at a packed stadium. The other is quiet and is best suited for a cozy room filled with books.
For most of us, they go together like peanuts and gum.
For Tyler Lockett, they are a perfect combination of passions.
That’s because Lockett, a junior receiver at Kansas State, loves both football and poetry. And he doesn’t care who knows it. On the field, he is a dangerous deep threat and a skilled kick returner. Off the field, he writes poems.
"It’s not a combination you see every day, I will admit that," Lockett said, "but I enjoy them both. When people think of poetry they think of roses are red, violets are blue. That’s why I wouldn’t necessarily call what I do poetry. I like to think of it more as spoken word. It’s a mixture between preaching and poetry, and it’s something I can relate back to football."
The better he gets at one hobby, the better he gets at the other. They cross over.
Every year, he creates a motivational poem to share with his teammates before an important game. He first gave it a try when K-State traveled to Miami two years ago. The follow-up came last season when K-State played at Oklahoma.
Before each game, Lockett stood in front of the entire team and passionately delivered his original poetry. The Wildcats then took the field and won both games despite being labeled heavy underdogs. Many look back at those victories as turning points in successful seasons that ended at major bowl games.
Coincidence? Perhaps. But the poems definitely had an effect on Lockett’s teammates. K-State senior running back John Hubert will never forget what Lockett said before that Miami game. He responded by rushing for a career high 166 yards.
"Tyler always comes up with a speech before every big game," Hubert said. "He gets up and talks to us. It comes from the heart. It really touched me, because going into that game no one thought we stood a chance against Miami and when he got up and talked to the team and told us how he felt, that really touched me. I felt like I should go out and give my best and have one of my best games. That is what happened."
K-State football coach Bill Snyder remembers the poem, too.
"It was long," Snyder said. "I have no idea how he memorized so many words. You could tell it meant a lot to him and that it came from the heart."
Lockett’s poem was entitled "How bad do you want it?" Ask him for a reenactment and he can recite parts of it two years later without a moment’s hesitation.
"How bad do you want it?" Lockett said. "If opportunity knocked would you answer before you said, ‘Who is it?’ Or would you look through the window and the peek hole, opportunity is gone and you missed it? I like saying stuff like that when I am around football players. It makes them think, ‘Yeah, what am I waiting for?’ Let’s do this. Let’s win. I like to use poetry as a platform to inspire people."
Lockett became interested in poetry a few years ago when he watched a motivational speaker read one of his creations online. The poem was entitled "Does anyone know that you are a Christian?" The line that hooked Lockett: Does anyone know that you are a Christian, because of your actions or does everyone think you are a Christian because you are acting? As soon as he heard that, he was ready to try poetry for himself.
It started poorly, with forgettable poems about love and school. Then he moved on to religion and football. All of a sudden, he was cranking out poems.
"Stuff just started to come together," Lockett said. "Everything flowed together. I’ve been doing it ever since."
It takes Lockett between three and five hours to complete a poem. It takes him much longer to memorize one and read it in front of his teammates. That’s why he tries to limit his inspirational poems to one per year.
Still, his passion for poetry has clearly spilled over to the football field and vice versa.
When Lockett came to K-State, he was a lightly recruited receiver from Tulsa who was best known for being the son of Kevin Lockett, one of the best receivers in K-State history. Two successful seasons later, he is now the Wildcats’ top passing target and one of the nation’s best kick returners.
He has 1,251 yards and four touchdowns as a kickoff returner, and 933 yards and seven touchdowns as a receiver. He is also now a team captain. It’s easy to see why he made the preseason all-Big 12 team. K-State receivers coach Andre Coleman says Lockett is already better than his father was.
But Lockett has even higher goals for himself.
"I want to be able to improve my mentality and my route running," Lockett said. "I want everything to be the same. I want to catch up at the wide receiver position and be where I am in kick return so I can be able to line up and be the same. There won’t be any, ‘Oh, Tyler Lockett is just a kick returner.’ It will be, ‘His whole, entire game is solid.’ That’s what I want to be."
If he needs any help along the way, he can always turn to poetry.
"Every experience I have on the football field, I can write about and relate it back to something else with spoken word," Lockett said. "That’s what is so great about it."