It has been since 2007 and 2008 that Temple had the same quarterback start back-to-back opening games.
That quarterback was Adam DiMichele, now the Owls’ wide receivers coach.
That won’t change this Thursday when sophomore P.J. Walker takes the first snap against Vanderbilt with Connor Reilly – who started last year’s opener at Notre Dame – backing him up. But if all goes according to plan, Walker will be the starter when Temple opens the 2015 and 2016 campaign as well.
After a tremendous half-season as the Temple starting quarterback, Walker is ready to lead the Owls now and into the future. He threw for 2,084 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, while also rushing for 332 yards.
“Having a quarterback from that stability standpoint gives you confidence in the team (as a whole) and helps us in recruiting tremendously,” said Temple offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield. “It’s like having the same head coach for eight years. What you do offensively isn’t going to change as long as that guy’s back there … And he’s only going to get better.”
Walker and Satterfield admitted the young quarterback almost didn’t play last year. Reilly didn’t start the third game against Fordham because of a sprained ankle, and when backup Juice Granger struggled Walker came in to start the second half.
While Reilly eventually relieved Walker after two difficult series, the Owls went back to the true freshman in the fifth game and never looked back.
“Eventually he was going to have to go in to validate burning his redshirt,” said Satterfield. “We knew he’d be good, but we didn’t know he’d take it the way he did.
“If he didn’t play, we’d be sitting here worrying is this kid any good because we would have never tackled him. You have to see him move around and create plays. We almost started him against Fordham, but I chickened out. The conversation started at the end of the first quarter, let’s do it, Connor’s not going to be healthy.
“Once we threw him in there, we tried to get a plan together to play him as much as we could, and we realized pretty soon he was going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country.”
Said Walker: “I thought I was going to redshirt, I talked to coach Matt Rhule and my thing was to sit and learn. But I played the Fordham game and I had to go out and exceed expectations.”
That he did, and now those expectations will be sky-high heading into sophomore season.
“I don’t have any individual goals, I just want to do whatever it takes to win,” said Walker. “If I hand it off every time and we score, that’s what it’s going to be. I just have to go out and play my game and not over-think it. In order to show I’m one of the best quarterbacks in the country, I have to go out and win.”
Walker won only twice last year in the Owls’ 2-10 season, but three times he turned over a lead to the defense in the final minutes and it couldn’t hold it. He put up 49 points against SMU and the Owls lost, 59-49.
“He’s a humble guy,” said Temple head coach Matt Rhule. “His perspective is he just wants to win games. He’s not worried about stats and rewards.”
What Walker, who spent some offseason time at the Manning Passing Camp, is worried about is ball security. It has been a focus of his since training camp started.
“If you protect the ball, you put points up and have a better chance to win,” said Walker.” I don’t want to run as much, but when the time comes, I look forward to making plays and running when I have to. I want to make the defense defend the whole field.”
Satterfield has no doubts Walker will show he has made huge strides from Year 1 to Year 2.
“He’s understanding concepts a little bit more, not just dropping back and picking a guy before the snap and hoping he’s open,” said Satterfield. “He really did a good job in the offseason of trying to learn football.
“He made a nice jump not to where he’ll eventually be but understanding the offense, understanding where the routes are gonna be, understanding why we throw the routes, understanding who he needs to manipulate in coverage to make a guy be open and throw a guy open. He understands run surfaces better. He’s done a nice job of developing his football IQ.”
When the Owls were at Citizens Bank Park signing autographs before a recent Phillies game, Walker said many of the fans recognized him.
“It’s pretty fun, just to come out here and know people know you,” said Walker. “It’s a pretty good experience. I’m honored to have this kind of notice, especially in Philadelphia, the city you play football in. That’s pretty cool.”
If Walker has the season many people are expecting and returns to lead the Owls to greater heights the next two years, it won’t just be Philadelphia where Walker draws attention.
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