Unlikely Elks’ quarterback Kai Locksley plans to bring ‘juice’ to the offence anyway he can

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

After entering training camp with nine quarterbacks, the Edmonton Elks will begin the 2022 season with four passers still remaining. The expected candidates of Nick Arbuckle — who’s currently battling a hand injury — Taylor Cornelius and first-round CFL Draft pick Tre Ford all survived the league’s mandatory roster cut down Saturday, but joining them is a player who began the year on nobody’s radar: Kai Locksley.

The rail-thin former star at the University of Texas-El Paso was signed by the Elks in January and hardly given a second thought by most observers, buried behind big-name college acquisitions like J.T. Barrett, Khalil Tate, and later Cardale Jones on their projected depth chart. Locksley has outlasted them all, making the roster after receiving praise for his performance in the team’s preseason finale, a 37-7 loss that head coach Chris Jones otherwise deemed embarrassing.

“I just made sure that guys were ready to go in that fourth quarter,” Locksley told team broadcaster 630 CHED post-game. “A lot of ’em, they were very antsy throughout the game and it was just about staying composed, staying focused. And then when you get your opportunity, making the most of it. We don’t quit till it is one second on the scoreboard.”

Locksley was 9-of-13 passing in his time under centre, throwing for 124 yards and one interception while rushing for the Elks’ lone score. It was an admirable display and one that the quarterback completed at less than full strength, as Locksley was one of several Edmonton players battling the flu.

“I felt like I was about to throw up on a couple of drives, but that’s what comes with the game of football,” he said. “It’s a bunch of adversity, you’re not always going to feel your best, but you’ve got to bring your energy up and you’ve got to be focused and ready to go when you cross the white lines.”

The simple fact that Locksley has made the Elks’ roster as a quarterback is a testament to his ability to continue battling when the odds aren’t in his favour. While he appeared in 20 games at UTEP and threw for 2,266 yards, nine touchdowns, and 14 interceptions while rushing for 875 yards and 11 score, many pro scouts didn’t see a future for him at the position.

The six-foot-four, 210-pound speedster’s lone NFL opportunity came with the Miami Dolphins as a wide receiver, but he couldn’t stick as a pass-catching convert. Some around the CFL speculated his path in Canada might be the same, but the Elks’ plan is quite a bit more complicated.

With a new rule change this offseason allowing for two quarterbacks to be on the field at the same time, the mad scientist Chris Jones wants Locksley taking snaps and catching balls. On Friday, he caught two passes for 21 yards in addition to his quarterbacking duties, earning a stamp of approval from fellow versatile QB Tre Ford.

“He looked really good at receiver. He also went out there and did really good as a quarterback today too,” the Canadian phenom remarked. “He’s a bigger target too. He’s a lanky guy, he’s fast. It’s nice to have him out there as an X.”

For Locksley, the added responsibilities are just one more way he can bring value to the Elks on gameday.

“I just want to help this team in any way I can,” he said. “Be as dynamic as possible, help get the explosive plays and bring some energy and juice to the offence.”

He’s certainly done that throughout training camp, becoming a true feel-good story in Edmonton. Locksley believes the secret to his success has been in his grounded and methodical approach to the process, something he hopes to stress to his teammates after a disappointing end to the preseason.

“It was just about stacking each brick one at a time and taking it one day at a time, trying to make the next day better than the last,” Locksley stressed. “I’ll continue to do that throughout this season and try to bring guys along with me, because today wasn’t what we wanted in any aspect of the game, offence, defence or special teams.”