Excited about the start of the football season. Excited to see what certain teams can do, what certain players can do. To see who has evolved and who hasn’t. At the pro level, sure.
But mostly at the college level. Especially with my one alma mater, Temple University, and particularly with one of the key members of its grid program with things about to kick off just two weeks from tonight in a nonconference tilt against Army at Lincoln Financial Field.
The crown jewel of former coach Steve Addazio’s last recruiting class, Phillip Walker enters his senior season as the Owls’ starting quarterback with as much “what if” stamped to him as anything else. Which is oddly insane when you consider the guy is well on his way to recording 10,000 yards passing, 1,000 yards rushing and is fresh off a campaign that saw him direct the team to a school-record 10 wins.
That, however, is the reality when it comes to the North Jersey product whose electric, almost other-worldly talents displayed at Elizabeth High School have certainly transferred to the FBS plane … only to be, oh, short-circuited due to circumstance at times or stuffed in a closet due to a conservative head coach at others.
Frankly, Temple fans have been privy to Walker’s full arsenal mainly in tantalizingly frustrating abbreviated stints. His first start, back in 2013 at American Athletic Conference powerhouse Cincinnati, had Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville gushing with praise for Walker to Matt Rhule, emphasizing that the latter had a real keeper at QB.
The Temple coach’s reaction almost seemed to be, well, better scale things back then so as not to upset the delicate genius … or the rest of our team – and he hasn’t changed much since.
Thing is, it’s not like Rhule hasn’t relied on Walker to help build up the Owls’ program to where it almost receives respect in our tough-sell region while receiving much more outside it. The kid hasn’t missed a game since that Cincy outing. He’s already set Temple records for TD passes, completions and total offense and is about one decent half of football away from becoming the school’s all-time passing yardage leader. He’s had monster performances, even if they have somehow flown under the radar, including a quartet of four-TD aerial contests.
But once the Owls started winning, and did so in a safe way with dominating defense and solid running game, Rhule pulled in the reins quite a bit with his dual-threat signal-caller – and, yo, how about we knock it off with “dual-threat” being labeled code language or somehow lessening a black kid’s legit QB ability; it’s a compliment, period.
The coach, though, says things will be different this fall … and, to me, that’s exciting. Because if he ever unleashes Walker and allows the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder to utilize all his athletic skills and decision-making instincts, Temple could be looking at a truly special season.
Because Walker is a special talent.
The backfield, headed by 1,000-yard runner Jahad Thomas, is good and deep, the receiving corps is much the same and the offensive line may be the best during Rhule’s tenure. The defense and special teams return many performers from 2015, too.
Walker, though, is the key. If he is given the opportunity to show all he can do, the Owls just might be able to take another step or five forward this year … instead of doing the usual and falling back.
He has the potential to make that happen, and that is exciting.
Senior QB Phillip Walker is the cover boy for Temple's season-ticket plan.
ALL EYES ON HIM
Temple University senior QB Phillip Walker will be considered for several national honors this season. Thus far, he has been named to the preseason Watch List for these awards:
Maxwell Nation's player of the year CFPA National Performer of Year
Nation's player of the year Davey O'Brien Nation's QB of the year Manning Nation's QB of the year Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Nation's senior QB of the year