Connor Reilly smiles when asked if there is a difference between this training camp and last.
Of course, there is.
Last season, the rising redshirt junior came into camp the surprise No. 1 after winning a spring practice battle that also included seniors Chris Coyer and Juice Granger – a position he held as he led the team into the season opener at Notre Dame.
After an ankle injury and some uneven play, Reilly relinquished the spot to true freshman P.J. Walker, who went on to throw for 20 touchdowns and 2,000 yards and solidified his role heading into this season.
Reilly, now a redshirt senior, is No. 2 on the depth chart and Walker’s mentor. He admits there is some thoughts of what might have been, but he’s content in his role and ready to serve in his new capacity for his final season.
“Last year I almost had the nod out of spring, working with the ones even though there was still competition, and this year P.J. secured his spot in the spring,” said Reilly. “Right now, we’re pushing each other on the field and in the meeting room, learning the defense and the plays and learning how to fix everybody out on the field.
“It comes back to when I was a freshman and I studied under Chester Stewart, Mike Gerardi, Chris Coyer. What (Coyer) did last year was coach me as much as the coaches did. We’re Temple Owls. It’s not a one-man team.
“If I can better P.J., I’m all for it. It’s all about the winning record … I’m still pushing, still biting at his heels. I want to get on the field and play. The first role is to fight, my second is to help him get better.”
After not taking a snap the first three years, Reilly was impressive against Notre Dame. He struggled in the second game against Houston, then didn’t start in week 3 against Fordham because of an ankle injury – though came off the bench after Granger and Walker didn’t play well to lead the Owls to three touchdowns in three drives and nearly a win.
Several missed chances by Reilly cost Temple in a 26-24 loss to Idaho, and the Owls went to Walker early the following week against Lousville. Reilly never started again.
“It still haunts me, the Idaho game more than anything,” admitted Reilly, who finished the year 76-for-148 for 771 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.“But it’s in the past, I have to move on. P.J.’s the best competitor out there, and I’m excited.”
Walker is excited to have Reilly pushing him, feeling he can’t slip up if he wants to keep his position.
“He’s the guy who will be there no matter what,” said Walker. “He pushes me each day to get better. I know with a guy like him behind me, I have to work my tail off because he’s just as good as me. He can play.”
Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield, who came in last year and helped Reilly blossom, said the two have a special bond. He knows yielding his position to Walker wasn’t easy, but Satterfield couldn’t have pictured a player handling it better.
“I may not ever let Connor leave,” said Satterfield. “If people could hear Connor on the headsets when P.J. took his place … Connor coached his butt off. Connor loves Temple, loves his teammates, loves everything about Temple University and the Temple football program. He is the most unselfish human being I’ve ever been around.
“If you saw us interact, you’d think we wanted to kill each other, but I’ll forever be indebted to that kid, what he’s gone through. He’s a good quarterback. He can start for half the teams in this league, but right now, he’s got a guy in front of him that’s pretty darn good.”
Reilly said he would be open to staying with the program as a graduate assistant after his playing days are over.
“The thing I like about quarterbacking is being able to take control, tell kids what to do,” said Reilly, who is a business management major. “Sometimes I’m wrong, but most of the time I’m right, so I feel good about that. If (a coaching opportunity) presented itself, I’d jump at it.”
But that’s a year away. Right now, Reilly has more football in front of him.
He’s working with Walker as a veteran quarterback and mentor and working with the rest of the skill position players to make sure the offense is as efficient as possible.
“If I can get the (backup) wide receivers better on the sidelines, so that they better understand what to do when they’re running with ones, they won’t have that deer in the headlight look,” said Reilly.
Head coach Matt Rhule said Reilly might return to his role as holder on field goals this year, but he also knows he’s probably going to have to call on him to take some snaps.
“Connor’s a winner and a leader, naturally,” said Rhule. “He’s coaching the young quarterbacks and receivers. Last year, we played four quarterbacks. There hasn’t been a year we haven’t played two at one point.
“He’s preparing himself and he’s capable of winning. If that time comes if something happens to P.J. he has to go in there and he has to play great.”
Backup Plan: Connor Reilly embraces new role
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