After losing his job, Jalen Hurts could have done a lot of things. Instead, he put his head down and continued to work. Alabama is in the Playoff because of that, too. But he’s not quite finished …
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Jalen Hurts wanted the message to be clear: If you don’t hear it from him then don’t put much stock into it.
Since the second half of the 2018 national championship game, Hurts’ future has been widely debated. Some suggested he change positions. Many outlets ran stories with suggested transfer destinations. The talk around Hurts became deafening.
Meanwhile, Hurts kept quiet, kept his faith and kept working to get better. His commitment to Alabama and the pursuit of his degree has never wavered. He earned his degree earlier this month and helped Alabama to a comeback victory over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Still, questions about his future remained the hot topic at Alabama’s Orange Bowl Media Day on Thursday.
“I’ve spoken on that already in the fall,” Hurts said when asked if he has inquired about transferring during Alabama’s media day. “I’ve never said anything about transferring. Those words have never come out of my mouth. Those have always kind of been assumptions. If I haven’t spoken about it, it’s not a conversation to be had.”
When a reporter followed by asking Hurts if he had ever thought about transferring, Hurts paused, smiled and repeated the same answer. And to his point, he’s right. Hurts has never publicly shown any frustrations or alluded to leaving the program. If anything, he’s done the exact opposite. Hurts could have decided to redshirt this season to preserve a year of eligibility, but he worked as the backup and improved as a quarterback in arguably the most unique situation in college football history.
We’ve never seen a starting quarterback go 26-2 while leading his team to back-to-back national championship appearances lose his job. Especially now, the likelihood of that player sticking around after losing the job is even slimmer.
During an interview with ESPN that aired early Thursday morning, Alabama coach Nick Saban said Hurts’ story about perseverance should be an inspiration to people around the country.
Hurts has become an Alabama legend for his dedication and commitment to the program. Recently, Hurts surprised Alabama fan Denise Albritton with a visit. Albritton appeared to be moved to tears upon seeing Hurts. That’s just one of the ways he’s impacting the Alabama fanbase and community.
“Being able to impact people around the country and me having my personal testimony and being able to share that with people, including people who are older than me, is much appreciated,” Hurts said. “It means a lot to me to know that I can lend a helping hand, tell me story and share the things that I’ve been through with other people to make them better.”
Hurts has worked hard to improve
Hurts stressed that his story “is not over.” What that means for his long-term future is yet to be seen, but those who automatically assume Hurts will bolt for another school might need to simmer down. Hurts has taken full advantage of his opportunity to improve with a dedicated quarterback coach in Dan Enos along with offensive coordinator Mike Locksley.
“It’s like a piece of clay. They’re kind of carving me into being what they want me to be,” Hurts said. “It’s coming along. We’re far from where we want to be. Always room to improve, but I think they’ve done a great job helping all the quarterbacks this year.”
Enos said he and coaching staff stressed the fundamentals and technique of playing quarterback, beginning with how he gripped the football. The staff did a “throwing motion analysis” after spring practice and gave Hurts drills to work on. He said Hurts commitment to improving made him easy to work with.
“He has the will of a championship and wants to get better,” Enos said. “He’s done that.”
Perhaps no throw better illustrated the progress Hurts has made than his game-tying touchdown pass in the SEC title game against Georgia. Hurts dropped back and waited, patiently, for a routes to develop and a receiver to break free. Just when it appeared he was going to tuck and run, he rolled to his right, extending the play. Finally, Jerry Jeudy broke free and Hurts delivered a strike into the back corner of the end zone.
Moments later, Hurts delivered again, this time straight from the scouting report. He scored the game-winning touchdown on a designed run, securing Alabama’s spot in the Playoff for the fifth consecutive season.
“We knew he was going to stay the whole time,” Josh Jacobs told AL.com after that game. “And this is what he stayed for. From the day he didn’t start, he said there’d be a time when he had to make a play.”
Teammates appreciate his commitment
During Alabama’s team banquet after the regular season, Hurts was voted by his teammates the “Most Inspirational Player,” which is given to “the player who affects the whole team by his attitude as well as his performance.” Hurts, who won the SEC Offensive Player of the Year award as a freshman, was moved by the honor.
“To have them vote me and put me in that place, I really appreciate it,” Hurts said. “It shows the love they have for me, and it shows the love I have for them. I love them so much.”
Winner. Warrior. Competitor. Those are adjectives teammates and coaches use most frequently to describe Hurts.
Running back Damien Harris summed up Hurts the best. After stating that there aren’t “enough words to do Jalen justice,” Harris proceeded to voice why Hurts has become so beloved among the fan base and his teammates. Harris said Hurts has worked “tirelessly” to improve as a player and leader.
“For him to be able to, in his circumstance, to go out every day and focus on being where his feet are and focus on being the best version of himself is truly inspiring,” Harris said. “A lot of guys in his circumstance probably would have thrown the towel in and said, ‘Well, I’ll just worry about it next year. I’ll get back to it next year.’
“But every single day, Jalen comes in with the mindset that ‘I’m going to be the best person I can be, the best player that I can be and the player this team needs me to be. Whenever that circumstance happens or whenever my number is called, I’m going to step in and make a play.’ Every time his number has been called, he’s made play after play after play. I think that speaks to his character more than anything.
“We’ve all known Jalen is a great player since he got here, but I think this year Jalen has shown that his character is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Getting to play with somebody like that and being able to see someone so determined to be the best version of (himself), that’s really inspiring.”
Saturday night against Oklahoma, Alabama might ask Hurts to deliver again. No one doubts he’ll be ready to add another chapter to a storybook career he’s still writing.
“It has been a long ride,” Hurts said Thursday. “You look around and you see people making a lot of assumptions, and not knowing, or trying to predict what I will do, or what my plans are, but at the end of the day, I’m where my feet are, and really focusing on Oklahoma and getting that done, and all of the support from the fans have been great. I’m very appreciative.
“I think every competitor wants to leave some kind of legacy, and be remembered in a great fashion, and go down in a legendary style, but I can’t say that my story is over.”