When the XFL season came to a sudden end in March due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, PJ Walker had become the league's top star. The quarterback led the Houston Roughnecks to a 5-0 start while recording 1,338 yards passing with 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
"I felt like I had a lot of fun and I knew I belonged out there," Walker said in a recent phone interview.
But while Walker became known for his play in the XFL, he credits his years with the Colts for preparing him for the opportunity.
"I pretty much learned how to be a pro, for real," Walker said.
After becoming Temple's top quarterback in most statistical categories under now-Panthers head coach Matt Rhule from 2013-16, Walker was picked up by the Colts after he went undrafted in 2017. He didn't make the 53-man roster, but he did stick on the practice squad for two seasons, getting the opportunity to learn and grow under Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett.
"It was a great room. We had a lot of fun. I took so much from those guys," Walker said. "They both were smart. They both were players I loved watching play, practice, studying. I was also pushing those guys on a daily basis, just trying to get the best out of them."
Luck's shoulder injury kept him sidelined for the entire 2017 season, but he was still around the facility, which allowed Walker and Luck to get to know each other. A year later, Walker was around for Luck's last season when he led Indianapolis on a playoff run.
"We had a good relationship," Walker said. "That's one thing, you've got to be really good with being around each other in a group of guys and a room that you're going to be with most of the season, the whole season. So we were all comfortable around each other, we were all good friends, and we came together really well."
But then Luck made the stunning decision to retire last August — a choice that could have put Walker in position to make the active roster as the team's backup to Brissett. Walker displayed some ability during the preseason, but with two interceptions and no touchdowns, the Colts elected to cut him and sign veteran Brian Hoyer to be their backup. Indianapolis also kept Chad Kelly, who served a two-game suspension at the start of the season before heading to the team's practice squad.
"I thought I had an opportunity. But things happened and I just didn't get an opportunity to take full advantage of it," Walker said. "Now I'm just looking forward to going back out there — just getting that opportunity to go out there and compete and show guys what I'm capable of again."
It may not have been against NFL competition, but in many ways, Walker has already done that with his performance in the XFL.
"I played four years in college, and even though college isn't the pros and things like that, even just me going out there, knowing I can do it, knowing I have the ability to do it — it was just a confidence thing," Walker said. "I just went out there and played my game."
That was good enough to garner interest from seven NFL teams, according to Rhule. But Walker's history with the Panthers head coach was certainly one of the key factors in the quarterback choosing to sign with Carolina.
"It was just me being familiar with him and knowing what he likes to do, knowing his style of coaching," Walker said. "I'm just trying to make the most of the opportunity, and this situation was the best for me."
See photos of quarterback P.J. Walker during his brief stint in the XFL. Prior to that, he was on the practice squad with Indianapolis and played college football at Temple.