Shawn Lockett: One More Chapter

Like many football players before and after him, Shawn Lockett got his start when his dad signed him up at age eight for the local football squad. Lockett joined the Wilbraham Falcons in the small town of Wilbraham, Massachusetts – just 30 minutes due south of the University of Massachusetts.

From there, the future Firebird offensive lineman fell in love with the sport and couldn’t get enough of it. When he reached high school, he enrolled in the now powerhouse Springfield Central High School. His ability, in conjunction with his size, made him a four-year starter on their offensive line there. He earned all-state accolades in three of those years.

Following his successful high school career, Lockett headed to American International College (AIC) on a scholarship. However, that’s where his career hit a bit of a speed bump.

After his freshman year of college, AIC had a reduction in the amount of scholarships they could offer. Despite being on the first team Northeast 10 all-rookie team, Lockett was one of the casualties of the move. 

“It was one of those sad stories of scholarship not really being awarded,” Lockett recalled. “So I had to leave that school. I was a young man, still in my early 20s.” 

While it was devastating, he used that moment to propel the rest of his career forward.

The Next Step

Lockett wanted to find a way to stay in school to earn his degree, but he also wanted to play football while he was still young enough to do so. As a result, he reached out to some of the people that he trusted in the community to figure out what his next steps should be.

“I did reach out to some older gentleman in the community to see, you know, hey, what’s a really good semi-pro team?” he said. “What’s a really good avenue to get back to maybe college or, you know, whatever the case may be.”

As he was looking around, indoor football and the Arena Football League were not anywhere near his mind. In fact, Lockett didn’t even know indoor football was real, never mind a real possibility. And all of that is given the fact that he even got a chance to play the early Arena Football video game.

“One of my friends in the neighborhood had the old AFL game. We played it for like two seconds,” he said with a laugh. “I was like, turn this off. Let’s go get Madden.”

Years later, after making a profile on the new football scouting site Europlayers, he’d get the call to come try out for an Arena team. In 2015, Bob Kohler and Chris Thompson of the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks invited Lockett for a tryout.

He and his dad made the trek to Pennsylvania to attend the squad’s last open tryout. Lockett was impressed right away and made the team, but the work was just beginning.

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The Transition

Coming straight from collegiate football with very little knowledge of the indoor game, there was obviously quite a transition for Lockett. While he knew he wanted to play, he had no idea what that meant at the time.

“I wasn’t really aware of what I was getting myself into. The night that I signed the contract, we’re going back to the hotel. We’re getting food and I’m like, let me just let me just watch it,” he remembered.

“I just typed in arena football. I think it was the Jacksonville Sharks and the Tampa Bay Storm at the time. My jaw instantly dropped because I was like, ‘What am I getting myself into?’”

The high scoring, the high impact, the strategy – all of it was new and wild to Lockett. As an offensive lineman, there were so many different things going on compared to what he was used to.

However, none of it scared him away from the league. Instead, Lockett got right to work. He attributed that mentality to the work ethic instilled in him at his high school.

“I can shout out coach Valdamar Brower, he was my head coach at Central. He taught us in the high school days how important it is to watch film, how important it is to study your opponent,” he said.

“And so that’s what I did when I got home – studied tons of hours of film and really just wanted to get a grasp of this game.”

A Long Career

That winding path to indoor football opened up for Lockett nearly a decade ago, and he never really looked back. After three seasons with Lehigh Valley, he spent a season with the Albany Empire.

Following that, he signed with the Philadelphia Soul. Unfortunately, he never made it to camp due to an injury that kept him out for all of the 2019 season. He then lost the 2020 season, as so many did due to the COVID pandemic. He bounced back with a season with the West Virginia Roughriders and one back in Albany before settling back closer to home.

In 2022, he joined the Massachusetts Pirates of the Indoor Football League (IFL) in order to give his family a chance to see him play before he hung them up. An early exit from the playoffs and the slog of the season put the end within sight for Lockett. He announced his retirement from football. Although he seemed comfortable with his decision, Lockett’s retirement wasn’t for long.

“I ended up going the next week to the championship in Albany and watching that game,” he recalled.

“I don’t know, maybe it was the seat I was sitting in, or maybe it was the popcorn I was eating, but I literally got to surge again to play football.”

While things shook themselves out a bit in Albany, Lockett took a season to see if his retirement would stick. And as we, of course, know, it did not.

The Comeback

A year away from the game might be good for the recovery of the body, but it isn’t good for skills. Without being attached to a team, it’s difficult to find the high-level work he’d need to prepare himself for a comeback, especially at this level. Luckily for Lockett, he had just the contact to get himself back to where he needed to be.

“I got to shout out Nic Tardif. He’s my guy through and through. He’s been a huge part of getting me back to this season. He took some time to get me back into the offensive line mindset,” Lockett said, citing the knowledge of Tardif and his work at the Offensive Lineman Development (O.L.D.) School.

“He took the time and got me back and ready to go.”

The work Lockett put in with Tardif was clearly paying off. Lockett signed with Albany, and the rest is history (or nearly is). He went right back into a starting role in the AFL and helped lead them to a first round bye in the playoffs.

The Future

With them firmly in contention for the ArenaBowl, Lockett is locked in. That leaves him little room to think about what comes after this season.

“I am just trying to become the best leader I can for this team, the best leader I can for this community, and bring a championship back to Albany,” he said.

“The city definitely deserves it. And, you know, that’s my personal goal.”

Whether that happens or not, this may be the final run for Lockett, who is taking things day by day – thanking God and his coaches for each additional step he gets to take.

Regardless of what is next for Lockett, you can count on football being a big part of it. Only time will tell if that will be on the offensive line again, as a coach in the AFL, or back helping to coach one of his alma maters.

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