CHARLOTTE -- Tamicha Drake always knew her son had what it took to make it in the NFL. In fact, she saw it unfold exactly the way it happened, well over a year ago, before he was even on the roster.
After P.J. Walker led the Panthers to a win over the Lions in his first NFL start, he told the story about his mother dreaming that he'd do so with the Panthers.
That she did it a year and a half ago, when he was in the midst of his on-and-off-the roster dance with the Indianapolis Colts, made it a bit like prophecy.
"I remember, I woke up one morning, and it was so weird I had to call him," Drake said in a phone interview Monday night. "He's with the Colts at the time, but I told him I dreamed he was playing for the Panthers, and he thought that was weird too.
"We agreed it was kind of crazy, but he did, it came true."
There was no real connection at the time to the team, no subconscious reason Drake would see her son's future in Charlotte.
Walker's college coach at Temple, Matt Rhule, was still a year away from taking the job here, and other than being fans of former Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, there was no discernible link for the mother or son.
But that vision remains clear to her today, as she described it after a long shift as a mail carrier back in Elizabeth, N.J., a job she's held for 23 years.
"I was shocked when coach Rhule got that job, but it didn't dawn on me at the time it would work out this way," Drake said. "But life comes full circle sometimes."
Walker used that exact phrase Sunday night when he told reporters about his mom's premonition.
"It's crazy because I didn't actually envision this start, my mom did," Walker said Sunday night. "About a year and a half ago, two years ago, she called me, and she was like 'I had a dream that you were playing with the Panthers.' I was with the Colts still at the time, so I'm like, 'Really? That's weird with me being in Indianapolis at the moment.'
"And life has just come full circle. Her dream came true. Mine did too today."
Drake was only off by a week of seeing it in person, though perhaps that was best.
She had come to Charlotte to visit the week before but watched Walker's first start at home in New Jersey, with her sister Amantha and niece Yasmeen. The three of them have watched games together for years, in high school and college stadiums, and Drake was glad to have familiar faces nearby.
"To see it, I was just so happy for him, I got really emotional," she said. "He's worked so hard to get to this point in his career, to prove he belonged.
"I was honestly overwhelmed."
She's felt nervous before games before, the kind of anxiety shared by every parent watching their child perform. The stakes got higher as he progressed in his career, at Temple, and then through stints with the Colts, and earlier this year in the XFL.
Through it all, she's remained consistent, assuring her son he had what it took to make it. There were moments when some might have doubted — among them all the times he was cut during his years with the Colts, usually ending up back on the practice squad — but she said she's never heard him feel sorry for himself or get down.
"It can be tough going through that so many times," she said. "But every time we talked, I just kept telling him to continue to compete, to never give up, and that another door would open."
That door opened shortly before kickoff last Sunday when Walker was informed he was taking the place of the injured Teddy Bridgewater.
Drake said she only began feeling comfortable when her son connected with Curtis Samuel for a touchdown in the third quarter, which pushed the Panthers to a 14-0 lead. Walker had gotten into a rhythm on the field, completing 10 straight passes at one point.
"That was the point when I calmed down a little," Drake said. "He was comfortable, he was moving the ball, you could see he was having fun."
That continued after the game when he FaceTimed her to share the win, the one she dreamed of long before he imagined it was possible.
"It was great," Drake said. "I told him 'You were a leader out there today.'"
Just the way she dreamed.
View photos of P.J. Walker's 2020 season so far as he won his first career NFL start in Week 11.