Temple quarterback looks to be more of a leader

Posted: August 15, 2014

TEMPLE QUARTERBACK P.J. Walker was standing perfectly still, utterly silent next to the violent, three-on-three drills he watched from midfield on Chodoff Field, at 10th and Diamond streets.

Then, when the offense started losing yardage, one coach sprinted to his position.

"P.J.!" he yelled. "What are you doing?! You have to be more vocal out here. You need to be louder."

Walker fixed his helmet, strapped on his chin strap and got to work. He went four consecutive drives down the field, hitting receivers with quick slant routes, rarely missing a throw.

It is a new Walker and it is a new year. The sophomore quarterback is out to prove that, and the first step is improving his voice in the locker room and on the field.

"Me personally, I'm going to come out here and be more of a leader," Walker said. "I'm starting to feel more comfortable leading them, and me speaking more and more and talking to the guys, they are starting to follow my lead . . . Let them know your presence is being made . . . when we come on the field, they'll follow."

With head coach Matt Rhule and the Owls implementing a new, faster offense this season, some of the players have been lost in the shuffle, adjusting to the differences in the playbook. And when they don't know whom to turn to, Walker is there to be a helping hand.

The 6-1, 200-pounder from Elizabeth, N.J., threw for 2,084 yards his freshman season, connecting for 20 touchdowns and throwing only eight interceptions. He rushed for 332 yards on 90 carries. The sophomore gunslinger still has a lot to learn, but Rhule has placed a lot of certainty in his young, dual-threat back.

"P.J has been great," Rhule said. "He's been in command. He knows what he's doing and runs the ball well when we tell him to do it. He's getting the ball to who needs to get it. He's running at a very efficient level. He's my QB. We had a lot of faith in him last year and threw a ton with him last year. I have a lot of confidence in him."

When Walker is having issues finding his voice, he looks to the leadership of junior offensive lineman Kyle Friend. He and Walker are both regarded as important voices in the locker room, with Friend befriending most of the offensive lineman this offseason.

He and junior Eric Lofton spent time together this summer, taking yoga classes and engaging in football-related activities.

"I'm glad I have a good relationship with these guys and I'm thankful they look up to me," Friend said. "But a lot of guys follow me because when we are in the [football] building, we are serious and when we are out of the building, we are friends.

"We have to hold each other accountable every day with film and taking care of your body. That's an everyday thing. Coach talks about building our brand, and when you aren't accountable, that's like breaking your brand off."

Walker kept the same mentality in practice, through ups and downs. When he threw a bomb down the sideline to a receiver for a touchdown, he celebrated with his teammates. And when he threw an interception on a slant route during his fourth drive in 11 vs. 11 work, he looked at his offense for guidance.

It all starts with No. 11.

"Be first," Walker said. "Lead by example in all the drills and keep pushing. I talked to coach Rhule and he said, 'You don't have to be a vocal leader if that's not you.' The team is going to follow the quarterback.

"So I put that in my hands as a responsibility, to go out there and lead, be first in drills and run. We gotta run to the ball . . . We gotta lead the guys and get them going."

On Twitter: @TylerRickyTynes

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