The Phillip Walker era began at Temple on Oct. 5, 2013.
Walker, who was a true freshman at the time, took over for Connor Reilly in the second quarter of Temple’s loss to the University of Louisville. He’s been the Owls’ quarterback ever since.
The senior quarterback, who went by P.J. during his first three years on campus, has started 47 games in a row for Temple. He finished his career on Tuesday by throwing for 396 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Wake Forest University in the Military Bowl.
Walker ended his time at Temple with 10,668 yards passing, 74 passing touchdowns and 28 wins, which all rank tops in program history. He also ranked third in Temple history with 44 interceptions.
“It was the best four years of my life man,” Walker said. “I could care less what the crowd thinks. They booed when I was running off the field and they were cheering at one point in the third quarter, but at the end of the day, these guys in this locker room made everything in my four-year career what it was and I love them guys for everything they’ve done.”
Former coach Matt Rhule decided that Walker was the quarterback who could turn the program around. With Walker as the starting quarterback, Rhule’s teams went 28-19. Walker helped Temple improve from 2-10 to 6-6 in 2014 then led the Owls to back-to-back 10-4 seasons in the best two-year stretch in program history.
With Walker graduating, new head coach Geoff Collins will have to find his quarterback as he tries to continue the success Walker and Rhule had at Temple. Redshirt-sophomore Frank Nutile, redshirt-freshman Logan Marchi and freshman Anthony Russo are the leading candidates so far.
“Obviously they’re going to bring a different style,” senior running back Jahad Thomas said. “You don’t find too many P.J. Walker’s. But I’m sure the coaches are going to do a great job with whoever’s the guy come late August going into the next season. We have some great guys here with Logan, Frank and also a freshman Russo that’s gonna be competing for that job and I’m pretty sure that they’re gonna do a hell of a job.”
Russo was the most heralded recruit of the three young quarterbacks. He was rated a 3-star prospect by Rivals.com coming out of Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, Pennsylvania. Before his senior season, Russo was named an Elite 11 finalist, which evaluates the top quarterback recruits in the country.
Nutile was also ranked a 3-star recruit by Rivals.com coming out of high school in 2014. He passed for 3,100 yards and 28 touchdowns in his career at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, New Jersey. Nutile was the Owls’ backup quarterback in 2015 as a redshirt-freshman. He completed all three of his pass attempts for 40 yards and a touchdown. This year, Nutile and Marchi split backup duties, and Nutile’s only two pass attempts were incompletions.
Marchi tossed for 9,702 yards and 112 touchdowns in 36 career games at St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol, Connecticut. He completed 2-of-6 attempts for 29 yards this season.
What is Walker’s advice for whatever quarterback that Collins tabs to replace him?
“Play smart, have fun and be relentless, be a leader,” Walker said. “Don’t ever let the game get too big. Just keep having fun.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue