Jalen Hurts is what college football is all about.
In a time when so many are prioritizing self over team (make no mistake, those who opt out of their bowl games are doing exactly that), Jalen Hurts has been the epitome of a team player, and he has another SEC Championship to show for it.
Some might have seen it coming. Hurts threw for 4,861 yards and 40 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,890 yards and another 21 touchdowns. He was named the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2016.
Still, late last season, as the offense failed to function up to Saban’s standard, Hurts was benched in favor for then-freshman Tua Tagovailoa. Jalen watched the second half of the National Championship game from the sideline. When Tua threw the final pass in overtime to seal a victory over rival Georgia, Jalen cheered right alongside his Crimson Tide teammates.
He said all the right things. Then he did all the right things. In the offseason, he returned to the process which had previously led to so much of his success. He got back to work.
Through the offseason and spring ball, there was no public declaration of who the starting quarterback would be, though many assumed it would be Tagovailoa. And when those suspicions proved true, Tua stepped in and never looked back. He will be in New York on December 8 as a Heisman finalist.
Tua has led an Alabama offense has been rolling all season, churning out 527.6 yards per game and 77 touchdowns to date. They were 12-0 going into last weekend’s SEC Championship game.
Then Georgia took over. The Bulldogs led by 13 points at halftime, seemingly in position to upset the favored Tide. Then Tua got hurt. As the Heisman hopeful limped off the field, Alabama’s chances didn’t look good.
Then Jalen took over.
Before we go on – especially if you are a coach, player, or parent – imagine the context of the situation. Jalen Hurts left high school and immediately took the reins of one of the most storied college football programs, at or near its absolute peak, as an 18-year-old kid – the first true freshman quarterback to start at Alabama in 32 years. He quickly passed and rushed his way into the SEC’s elite, then into national prominence as one of the 10 finalists for the Manning Award, given to the nation’s top quarterback, all before his 19th birthday.
The following season, he led the 13-1 Tide to the National Championship game… and got benched.
Imagine the psychological whirlwind.
What do you say as a parent? As a coach?
What Jalen said, in his actions if not his words, was that he was committed to his team. He said he was a competitor and was willing to compete for the job. He committed to the weightroom, to the filmroom, to his schoolwork, to his school. On countless Tuscaloosa mornings, with his future uncertain, Jalen called upon resilience, deliberate practice, and grit. He knew what he wanted and was willing to work for it.
The option to transfer was there and… he passed.
Credit Pamela and Averion, his parents, who supported this young man through his decision and raised him to be a person of incredible character.
Credit Nick Saban, his staff, and the University of Alabama, for creating a culture that is difficult to leave.
And when Saban handed the keys to his offense back to Jalen, a young-man of weaker character might not have performed. Jalen picked up right where he left off in seasons prior. He created plays with his feet, made intelligent reads (on his first drive, he went 3-3 for 46 yards on 3rd downs), and finished drives. He capped an 80 yard scoring drive with a touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy, and on the next possession he ran in a 15 yard score to put the Tide up for good.
You couldn’t invent a better storyline. If college football is about a shared, team experience wherein mentors create cultures to set young men on the path to success throughout a lifetime, then Jalen Hurts gets it. He lives it.
Mike Locksley, Alabama offensive coordinator, may have said it best, “He’s a winner. I mean, Jalen Hurts is a winner.”