Temple's Walker finds refuge at home

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Temple quarterback P.J. Walker . (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

As he was struggling last season to match his outstanding freshman year, Temple quarterback P.J. Walker may have been trying to please too many people.

Walker admittedly often forced the issue, partly because he had a running game averaging a paltry 3.5 yards per carry and a receiving corps that could have used a game-breaker.

So while his touchdown passes went from 20 his freshman year to 13 last season and his interceptions rose from eight to 15, Walker had to endure his share of criticism.

Yet there was one place where the criticism was never heard: at home in Elizabeth, N.J.

It was there that Walker's biggest fan always greeted him with a positive spin on any performance.

Of all the people who have molded the career of the 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior, none, according to Walker, has had a greater influence than his mother, Tamicha Drake.

"She knows football as much as I know football," Walker said after one of Temple's preseason practices. "She knows her sports and knows everything."

Yet what Drake has known most is what to say and what not to say to her son. An admitted football diehard, the former Elizabeth High point guard remains the most positive influence in Walker's life.

Walker doesn't have to worry about hearing criticism if he misses a receiver on a third-and-8 slant pattern.

"She is not the type of person who will bring you down because you play this way or that way," Walker said. "She picks me up all the time and motivates me every morning."

They communicate on an almost-daily basis. It often comes from Drake in a text message, once or twice a day.

Walker began playing football when he was 7, but his mother planted the seeds for his career long before that.

"When he was little I always watched football, and he would watch with me," Drake said.

Things haven't changed a whole lot.

Earlier this summer, Walker went home for a long weekend. It so happened that a TV network was rerunning college football games the entire weekend. So mother and son plopped on the couch and watched one game after another together.

"We watched games all weekend, and it was great," Walker said.

Of course, not everyone is as easy on Walker as his mother. Even though Temple improved from 2-10 his freshman year to 6-6 last season, his game was criticized.

So while it would seem the goal is to get back to the play of his freshman year, coach Matt Rhule said that shouldn't be the case.

"I don't want him thinking too much about two years ago because he was a 2-6 quarterback," Rhule said, referring to the games in which Walker played the majority. "Last year he was a 6-6 quarterback."

For Rhule, wins are the defining statistic. With the .500 record Temple was bowl-eligible but didn't receive a bid.

"At Temple, only a couple of guys have been bowl-eligible quarterbacks," Rhule said. "I was really proud of him."

Temple, which has been playing football since 1894, has appeared in four bowl games, the most recent in 2011.

The Owls have high expectations this year. In fact anything less than a bowl bid will be a disappointment.

Walker is the first to admit that he wasn't satisfied with his play last year. He had a lingering ankle injury, but refused to blame that.

No, he had a rather simple explanation.

"I was trying to do too much," he said.

In the offseason, Temple hired Glenn Thomas as quarterbacks coach. Thomas spent the last seven seasons as an assistant with the Atlanta Falcons, the last three as quarterbacks coach.

"He has helped me slow everything down," Walker said. "I have learned a lot from him."

Many people will be waiting to see whether those lessons translate to more wins.

One thing that won't change is the comfort Walker will feel when his biggest fan is at Lincoln Financial Field for the opener Saturday against Penn State and the other home games this year.

How can anybody miss a person who wears "PJ Mommy" on her jersey?

"He is my only son," Drake said. "I want to be there for everything."


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard