I’m really excited about this. I know the XFL and really all of sports are on a current hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I won’t lie to you. I was building a “Who Is…” series that covers the XFL’s rising stars, and it’s kind of hard to build anything when there is no XFL…clearly. I was reminded though, that we can continue with our series and cover the XFL stars who are now being signed by the NFL. This will still give us a chance to drill down on who these guys are, where they came from, and what has given them their drive. For some of the guys we will cover, the NFL will be a familiar place, as some of them have already had a stint in “The League”. The guy we’re covering today has been nothing short of pure QB perfection with his performances within the XFL for the 5 weeks we had to enjoy it. In the latest installment of our “Who Is…” series we covered his teammate, Cam Philips. If you haven’t had a chance to read or watch that entry to our series, make sure you go check it out. (usfootballforum.com or usfootballforum on YouTube)
I find that the best stories in life are always ones where there is an underdog–someone that has been counted out, overlooked, or maybe just doesn’t fit the visual of what everyone wants them to look like. The “eye test” they call it. If you look at P.J. Walker, you don’t immediately think, “QB”. Because he’s not 6’3 or 6’5. He’s not very large in stature at all. He’s categorized as a dual threat QB, but if you have sat and watched any of the XFL games this man has played in, you can quickly summarize that P.J. is a pocket passer. He can extend plays with his feet but doesn’t necessarily have to run. Wait. Let’s slow down for a second, this is a “Who Is…” entry, and I’m about to go into a football breakdown rant.…. I haven’t even asked y’all the question yet. Sheesh, where are my manners. So, I ask you guys, who is this dime dropping QB talent? Who is this super-man-esk XFL 5-week legend? Who is…. P.J. Walker?
Let’s start at the beginning. Well, let’s start as far back as the internet will let me go. Phillip “P.J.” Walker attended Elizabeth High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey where they should have already built a statue for this man. The type of numbers P.J. was putting up in high school didn’t even make sense. He was a 4 year starter in high school who was classified as a Dual Threat QB, but absolutely lit up the state record books. He would be considered one of the most accurate QBs in the city during his 2012 junior season. This man completed 120-of-189 passes. For my math wizzes out there, that’s a 63.5 percent passing rate. Stop and think about that. Throughout an entire high school football season, this man was barely missing. On top of that he would pass for 2,168 yards with 18 passing TDs. The 2012 Newark-Star Ledger State Offensive Player of the Year would also lead his team to a 2012 state title.
P.J.’s high school football stellar production would garner him some quality collegiate attention. Those programs would be Temple, U Conn, East Carolina, James Madison and U Mass. P.J. would ultimately sign with the Temple Owls on February 6, 2013 under head coach Matt Rhule, a familiar face in P.J.’s present day NFL situation with the Carolina Panthers, but more on that later.
Now, you will need to get your popcorn ready for P.J.’s collegiate career as a Temple Owl because it is nothing LESS than amazing. The thing I like about P.J. the most as a quarterback is that he continually seems like he plays with a chip on his shoulder. No matter the circumstances, he has a winning mentality, whether it is team driven or for his own individual purpose. The man just wants to win. During his freshman year at Temple, P.J. would not get the starting QB spot over junior QB Connor Reilly. This wouldn’t stop him from fighting for the spot though, as he would get multiple shots during that freshman year to get the starting role. He would eventually earn the starting role in a televised week 6 performance against the Cincinnati Bearcats, where he would throw his first TD. This first TD would be the confidence builder that would lead P.J. to finish his 2013 freshman season with 2084 yards for 20 passing TDs. Walker’s 2014 sophomore year would go pretty well, as he would make history leading the Temple Owls to their first victory over an SEC team since 1938. This SEC team would be Vanderbilt, where Temple would win 37-7. That would be one major highlight of P.J.’s sophomore year. He would still finish the season with 2,317 yards passing with 13 TD passes. Now his junior and senior season would allow P.J. to be the starter for both seasons. Of the two seasons, P.J.s senior season would be his best. One unique Temple tradition and award is one in which players are awarded a single digit jersey number. These single digit awards are only given to those players who exhibited toughness. Adding to the laundry list of other incredible accomplishments P.J. would own, he would break Temple’s all-time passing yards record during a season opener against Army; tie a school record with 445 yards passing and 36 completions on 59 attempts against the University of Memphis; and, throw for his 20th multi-touchdown against Cincinnati. Yes, his senior year had plenty of bright spots, and more records were broken that year than any other player in Temple’s history!
Upon the ending of his senior year he would collect a plethora of awards including the 2016 American Athletic Conference Championship Game Most Outstanding Player, CFPA National Player of the Year Watch List, Offensive Production Play of the Week vs Tulane, and Offensive Production Player of the Week vs Cinci and Navy. The list goes on. He would leave Temple as the all-time leader with 1,458 attempts, 830 completions, 10,668 passing yards, 74 touchdown passes, and 11,100 yards in total offense. Lastly, he would be the first quarterback in Temple’s history to lead their team to multiple bowl games. In the words of the great Stephen A. Smith “he [was] a bbbaaaaddddd man!”
Though Walker had an amazing tenure at Temple, he would go 20-8 in his final two seasons at Temple under head Coach Matt Rhule. A good last two seasons stat wise and record wise, but nothing that would gain Walker enough attention to be drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft. He was rated the 32nd best quarterback in that 2017 draft class. A high honor indeed, but just not enough. He would also have a pretty good Pro Day that would leave an impression that was good enough to give P.J. a chance to sign as an undrafted free agent to the Indianapolis Colts. Now, I am a firm believer that a lot of times, it’s all in being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, working hard when you think no one is looking, AAAANNNDDDD being very VERY patient. I believe P.J. exhibited all of these qualities as he would be waived, released, and resigned to the Colts practice squad several times between May 2017 and September 2019 until he was finally released by the Colts. Again, right place/right time, who you know, working hard, and the most important of these–patience. All of this would pay off, because someone was watching.
So, Walker had just been released by the Colts, but there was one player within the Colts organization who was really high on P.J. This player was none other than Andrew Luck, starting QB of the Colts at the time. Luck’s dad, Oliver Luck was announced as the commissioner of the newly branded 2020 XFL. Oliver Luck would be quoted saying “Andrew had been pushing him to me.” He would go on to tell the Houston Chronical, via USA Today, “Dad, I’m telling you, this guy can play. He’s a good kid and a hard worker, and he’s hungry to play.”
Head Coach of the XFL Roughnecks, June Jones, felt that Walker would be the perfect QB for his run and shoot system. Initially, Walker would split reps with previous Michigan State QB Connor Cook during training camp. Walker would soon emerge as the favorite as he would be named the starter for the Houston Roughnecks for the Week 1 match up against the Las Angeles Wildcats. Head Coach June Jones’s decision would be a good one as P.J. proved to be a great decision for the Week 1 “W”. P.J. would finish that game 23 of 39 passing for 272 yards, 4 passing TD’s, and one INT. The Week 1 performance would not be his last stellar game as he would end the 5-week XFL season as the XFL’s passing leader. He would complete 119 passes on 184 attempts for 1,338 yards, 15 TDs, 4 INTs, and a passer rating of 104.4.
In just a short amount of time, his play on the field would grant him another shot at the NFL after a familiar face from P.J.’s past, Head Coach Matt Rhule, was now the head coach for the Carolina Panthers. March 25, 2020 would mark the day Walker would sign his two-year contract with the Carolina Panthers, sealing a second reunion with his previous head coach from Temple.
You can’t help but root for P.J.’s story. He’s worked hard, remained patient, and has let his play on the field speak for itself. Any team, whether NFL or XFL would be fortunate to have a QB like P.J. He constantly speaks of this “never give up” mentality on his social media, which I admire a lot. Working hard is what we as fans don’t get to see between gamedays, but from gauging his performances in high school, college and the pros, the man knows how to work. P.J.’s story isn’t done though, he’s still young and I know he will be missed during the 2021 season of the XFL. I know we ALL will be rooting for him if he gets a chance to play a few games in the NFL.