Every Monday through Thursday night, junior quarterback P.J. Walker and his backup, redshirt freshman Frank Nutile, show up to Edberg Olson-Hall around 6 p.m.
For two-and-a-half hours, the pair sets up in the film room at the team’s practice facility, often fueling up on whatever food they can get their hands on.
“Me and him will come down here for a couple hours a night and just get ready for the game,” Nutile said after last Tuesday’s practice. “Last night, we had some nice powdered doughnuts, so that was big time.”
In Friday’s 60-40 win against Southern Methodist, Walker completed 18 of 25 passes for 268 yards and four touchdowns along with 49 yards rushing and one rushing score.
This season, the junior has 1,769 yards passing, a 58.8 completion percentage and a 14:4 touchdown to interception ratio.
Last season, Walker completed 53.3 percent of his passes for 2,317 yards passing, totaling 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
“I’m just being smart with the football, and I’m not trying to do to much with the football,” Walker said last Tuesday. “Making the throws when I need to, tucking it down, throwing it away when I need to. Things like that. It’s what I didn’t do last year.”
The presence of Nutile, who redshirted last season, behind him on the depth chart has given Walker a push that was missing last season, his first as the Owls’ full-time starting quarterback.
“That’s something that I probably lacked last year,” Walker said. “Not thinking, ‘Oh I’m going to lose my spot, lose my job or anything like that.’ Just going out there and having Frank be behind and be probably the most competitive guy on the football field, it makes me the most competitive guy on the football field.”
First-year quarterbacks coach Glenn Thomas has worked closely with both players this season.
Thomas, the quarterbacks coach for the Atlanta Falcons from 2012-2014, joined the Owls’ coaching staff in March. He’s noticed the connection between Walker and Nutile while working with the two quarterbacks.
“You kind of lose sight that he’s a young quarterback, too,” Thomas said of Walker. “He played as a true freshman, so a lot of people lose sight that he’s really in that same world as Frank. … Obviously he has a unique position because he’s the guy, but I think they have an awesome relationship in the meeting room. Frank has been really a benefit for him. They bounce ideas off of each other watching film.”
During his time with the Falcons, Thomas coached three-time Pro-Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan, a native of Exton. Ryan passed for 4,500 yards or more in all three seasons under Thomas.
Walker said the presence of the former Falcons’ coach this season has been a driving force in his development.
“He expects perfection and that’s just his mentality,” Walker said. “That’s his motto. … We’re not satisfied with average.”
Throughout his career, Ryan has averaged 6.4 yards rushing per game. Walker has 81 yards rushing this season and 737 yards rushing through 30 career games.
Rather than force Walker to make plays inside the pocket like Ryan, Thomas has encouraged the junior to use his natural abilities.
“P.J. brings that athleticism that’s unique, that you can’t coach,” Thomas said. “He can do things off-schedule that maybe Matt couldn’t do, but you just have to play to those strengths and understand the differences and try to coach toward those differences.”
Walker, who dislocated his shoulder Sept. 5 against Penn State, has been more reluctant to run this season than in years past.
He rushed 90 times for 332 yards in nine games as a freshman in 2013. As a sophomore, he ran 106 times for 324 yards.
“I think the way he can throw first, and he can still make plays with his feet is huge because a lot of guys now can just run it and can’t really throw,” Nutile said. “But he he’s a true thrower first, and he can also make plays with his feet which is so rare to find.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.