For all the Temple passing records that senior Phillip Walker already owns, or will upon his departure, the one aspect of his game that is as impressive as any is his toughness.

That was evident when his teammates recently voted him a single-digit jersey number, a true sign of respect.

The single digit is reserved for the nine toughest players on the team (not including offensive linemen, who are not eligible because of rules stating they must wear numbers between 50 and 79).

Walker, who had been No. 11, will now wear No. 8, which in recent Temple history is no ordinary number. It was worn last season by Tyler Matakevich, an all-American linebacker who is now a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I am glad I am wearing Tyler's number," Walker said recently. "It represents how much he did for the program and gives me a little edge to myself wearing that number."

Anybody who knows the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Walker understands he is usually not consumed by numbers, even though he is compiling some impressive ones. He already holds the school record for touchdowns passes (52), total offense (8,237 yards), and completions (601).

Last season he threw for a school-record 2,972 yards, but Walker is more proud of the fact that the Owls tied the school record for wins during a 10-4 season. He also threw 19 touchdown passes and eight interceptions while completing 56.8 percent of his passes.

Walker injured his non-throwing shoulder in the opening game against Penn State and admitted that it hurt him during the season. But he started all 14 games, rarely leaving the field when the Owls had the ball.

Walker also displays mental toughness. After throwing 20 touchdown passes and eight interceptions as a freshman, he slumped to 13 TD passes and 15 interceptions as a sophomore.

Walker heard more than his share of criticism, but he blocked it out, realized he was trying to do too much, and decided not to force the issue.

And now with so many seniors departed, he is clearly the leader not only of the offense but the team.

It's no surprise that coach Matt Rhule is putting a lot on his four-year starting quarterback.

"Phillip is the key to us being a dominant offense," Rhule said. "We have been really good on defense for a while, but we have never really been a dominant offense, and it is not just his play, but him demanding guys do things right all the time."

Rhule said the defense has always had players who demanded that the team play to a certain standard, players such as Matakevich, and defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, a fifth-round draft choice of the Washington Redskins.

"He is doing a really good job of distributing the ball, understanding protections, getting us in the right plays," Rhule said. "So he's playing really well, but I think it is the other part of it, the leadership, that is crucial to our success."

While Walker has maintained that he is no different as a leader this season, he understands more is expected of him and is willing to take the responsibility.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself every day to be the best player on the football field and be as good as I can be," he said. "Because I know if I am at my best, the other guys will be at their best."

@sjnard