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Temple's Phillip Walker relishes the final game of a record-setting career

WASHINGTON - Temple was 3-3, having just lost 34-27 at Memphis, where its quarterback threw the ball 59 times and the criticism was coming at Phillip Walker hard and fast.

WASHINGTON - Temple was 3-3, having just lost 34-27 at Memphis, where its quarterback threw the ball 59 times and the criticism was coming at Phillip Walker hard and fast.

As a fourth-year starter at the most visible position in all of sports, Walker never blinked. Part of the reason he has become the most successful quarterback in Temple's history is that he has ridden the highs and the lows at the same speed.

Walker stayed the course and both he and the team took off. Now the No. 23 Owls look to close out their season in record-setting fashion.

A win over Wake Forest (6-6) in Tuesday's Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., would make this the winningest team in Temple history.

With seven straight wins, the Owls are 10-3 and have tied the single-season mark set in 1979 and tied last year.

While many athletes say they tune out any criticism, Walker not only admitted to hearing it, but using it in a constructive fashion.

"I heard it but that is what made me play better," Walker said before a weekend practice at St. John's College High in Washington. "It was a stepping stone for me."

It certainly was.

During Temple's seven-game win streak, Walker has thrown 12 touchdown passes and three interceptions.

Walker has guided two of the top winning seasons in school history. His 28 career wins is by far the most by a Temple quarterback.

At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, Walker's size isn't ideal for a quarterback, but his toughness and leadership more than compensate.

No matter where his football career takes him, Tuesday will be Walker's final game for Temple. It will be staged at the venue where Walker turned in one of his most courageous performances three-and-a-half weeks ago.

Walker completed 16 of 25 passes for 199 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions as the Owls beat host Navy, 34-10, in the American Athletic Conference championship Dec. 3. He barely practiced leading up to the game due to a sore ankle.

Walker showed great leadership in not only suiting up, but leading the Owls to touchdowns on their first three possessions.

"I get calls from the NFL and they say what is the first thing about PJ and I would say look at PJ and the amount of times he is willing to take a hit and deliver a ball," Temple interim coach Ed Foley said. "His competitiveness and love of his teammates, that to me sets him out as the best I have ever been around and I don't know anybody at any level of football who takes the hits he does and that is not knocking our protection," Foley said.

No, what Foley is saying is that Walker will wait until the last possible moment at times to attempt a pass, even if it means being clobbered by a defensive end in the process.

Walker has set several team records, including most career passing yards (10,273) and most touchdown passes (72), but his will to compete and eventually win will be his lasting legacy.

"He's one of the toughest guys on the team," junior safety Sean Chandler said.

Nobody knows Walker better than Temple senior running back Jahad Thomas. The two have been teammates since their freshman season at Elizabeth High.

"He has meant a lot to me on and off the field," Thomas said. ". . . It is tremendous to see somebody as himself grow as a football player and a friend."

Walker has shown the type of leadership expected of a quarterback, especially to the younger players.

"He has been a mentor to me on and off the field," said freshman running back/receiver Isaiah Wright. "I know I can go to him for anything. He is more like a big brother and I know our bond will continue."

Walker says he will have plenty of time to reflect on his career after his final game but even he realizes how emotional his Temple finale will be.

"It is very special just to put on the Cherry and White one final time," he said. "I will embrace it and I am going out there to have fun."