Walker dazzles in season opener
HOUSTON -- When quarterback P.J. Walker last took the field within the confines of TDECU Stadium, his life was much different.
The now 24-year-old was a junior at Temple, suffering a demoralizing loss in the Owls’ loss to the Houston Cougars in the American Athletic Conference championship game in 2015 despite the quarterback’s 287 passing yards and a touchdown.
In the second game of the XFL’s season Saturday night, Walker led the Roughnecks to the team’s first win, a dominant 37-17 victory over the Los Angeles Wildcats.
“He’s learning the system,” Roughnecks head coach June Jones said after the game of his young quarterback. “He did some really good things.”
The Elizabeth, N.J. native got things started early, making use of the XFL’s by-design fast tempo with a 50-yard bomb to wide receiver Cam Phillips, the Roughnecks’ leading receiver on the night, to put Houston up 6-0 within two minutes of kickoff.
A quarter later, with the Roughnecks down 14-6, Walker’s “magic,” as Jones called it, continued when he connected with running back James Butler for a 16-yard score to put Houston within two.
Walker played well in front of over 17,000 fans on the XFL’s first day of action, tossing for 272 yards en route to a four-touchdown performance that had his concerned coach surprised.
“I was kind of anxious to see him ... when the play breaks down to create things,” Jones said. “He did create a lot of stuff. That was his magic in college, too.”
Many of Walker’s highlights, including his 39-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass to wide receiver Sam Mobley towards the end of the second quarter to put Houston up 18-17, also had fans shocked, even comparing him to another Houston quarterback -- the Texans’ Deshaun Watson.
“I just learned so much, man,” Walker said of how much he’s picked up watching other professional players. “Seeing how these guys develop into really good football players and the way they process the game the way that they do, I’m just trying to model my game the same way.”
The quarterback took two more successful shots at the end zone in the Roughnecks’ victory, hitting wide receiver Khalil Lewis for a 4-yard score set up by Walker’s 29-yard completion to running back Nick Holley and another 4-yarder to Butler for his final touchdown pass of the night.
Walker also enjoyed the home atmosphere, which was much different than the last time he played at the venue.
“I was out there having fun and embracing the moment,” Walker said. “It was just amazing to have the opportunity to go out there and play a live football game.”
For Walker, who also rushed for 26 yards in the game, to be able to play with the Roughnecks, and the chance to continue winning, is thrilling, and he promised Houston will continue rolling.
“I’m excited,” Walker said. “I think we got a great team. I think we know who we got in front of us. I don’t think we’re going to take our foot off the gas pedal at all.”