Tom Rinaldi: “You came out the combine in a better position than you went in. How did you make that happen?”
Jalen Hurts: “There’s a thrill in not being satisfied. It keeps you going and I just want to continue to take steps every day, and be the best version of myself. There’s no ceiling on my game, there isn’t a cap. So just continue to take steps.”
Rinaldi: “Why should someone draft you?”
Hurts: “I’m a dog! I’m a relentless competitor, a leader. Holding my self accountable to do my job for the sake of the guys and the team. No other guy in this class has the ability that I have, in terms of ‘getting freaky’ or making all the throws.”
This initially may seem like just an excerpt from a sit down interview Jalen Hurts did with Tom Rinadli (formerly of ESPN/now of Fox Sports) prior to the NFL draft. However, as you continue to listen to this young man speak, how could you not fall in love with the prospect of this being the future franchise quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles? There isn’t one thing that Hurts mentioned during the interview that was not on full display as you watched his rookie season unfold. The relentless competitor? Well, this is the same player who played every down like it was his last versus Green Bay in a game where the general consensus was that it was basically over even before Hurts took a snap. The leadership? Look no further than a week 17 matchup against the Washington Football Team, where it would have been so easy to pack it up early especially with basically the entire starting lineup out, but no Hurts saw this as another challenge. Holding himself accountable? You probably won’t get five minutes into an Eagles post game press conference without hearing Hurts acknowledge that he could always play better. Of course like any rookie Hurts saws his highs and lows during his four game stretch and with a record of 1-3 there is obviously room for improvement for Hurts as well as the entire Eagles roster heading into the 2021 season.
“I’ll tell you that I’m putting the work in on my end, trying to build those relationships with my guys. I’m excited for this offseason, just excited to take that next step, so regardless of what’s what, I’m challenging myself to be the best quarterback I can be. Learn from my mistakes as a team, learn from my mistakes from last year personally (in) those four games that I got my opportunity to get my feet wet in and take off next year.”
While Hurts the present day player has some work to do in order to take the next step in his development. Hurts the prospect, seems to just have that ‘IT’ Factor. While its easy to say that Hurts’ potential is as he mentioned before ‘limitless’, especially with what he’s shown in his young career. To understand why the chances this projection actually turns into reality, you have to know exactly who Jalen Hurts? The story of this young man starts long before the gadget plays and the 53th overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. It’s long before he arrived to Norman, Oklahoma where Lincoln Riley helped unlock abilities in the passing game never before seen in Hurts. And of course long before Tua’s, Titles, and Tuscaloosa. You have to go all the way back to his days at Channelview High School located in Harris County, Texas just east of Houston. The days where it was just him and coach; or as Jalen often referred to him as, dad. That’s right his father, Averion Hurts Sr. was also his coach and the man who showed him the ropes early.
“Jalen was a little kid that, he’d come out and do the same workout the older kids did. At least he’d try, and he’d be right there most of the time. We saw it then that he was going to do something special.” – Averion Hurts
While attending Channelview, Hurts was a four year starter under tutelage of his father. During this time Hurts became a member of the All-District 21-5A 2nd team team as a sophomore, was named the District 21-6A MVP as a junior. During Hurt’s senior season he accounted for 3,775 total yards (2,384 passing — and helped lead Channelview to its first playoff appearance in 22 years. This en route to becoming a four star recruit and the number one Dual Threat quarterback in the country.
“Driving home from practice after watching some film in ‘Big Red’ [the family truck]; you know, it was all good, Yeah we talked football but once we stepped into that garage — let the garage up, it all came to an end… Those experiences were something that I’ll never forget in life” – Jalen Hurts
It was experiences like these that helped prepare Hurts for what was about to happen next. Anyone who is a fan of the football scene knows that Texas and football run synonymous. The passion of the fans in that area especially on Friday nights for the high school games, is typically unmatched. However, there are a few places in the country that can make the argument that they are just as passionate about the game as those in Texas. One of those being the fans located in Alabama, particularly in Tuscaloosa; the location of what many consider to be the premier college football destination in the land, the University of Alabama. For the first time Jalen and possibly everyone in the Hurts family stepped out of their comfort zone — see Averion Hurts Sr like his sons was the first member to graduate from Channelview, following his graduation Hurts Sr accepted a football and track & field scholarship at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas. Averion Hurts Jr, the other brother of Jalen was the starting quarterback at Channelview prior to the arrival of the youngest Hurts brother in 2013. Following his graduation from the family alma mater, Hurts Jr. went on to become the quarterback at Texas Southern University. Meaning for the first time not only did a member of the Hurts football family have offers from a division I university, but he would be attending school outside of the state of Texas. While it is said that Texas A&M made a strong push for the in-state star, a much bigger challenge waited ahead.
So the usual ten mile trip that father and son would take from Houston to Channelview turned into an approximately nine hour trip as the two drove to what was soon to be the new home of the Texas football prodigy. For his first practice, Hurts was asked to emulate DeShaun Watson, the then quarterback of Clemson whom Alabama would face in the CFP National Championship game in the coming days. As history shows Alabama would go on to win that game, little did he or anyone know what the next 365 days had in store. Well between Hurts becoming the first freshman quarterback to start under a Nick Sabin-led unit, the first freshman to win SEC player of the year since 1980 (Hershal Walker), earning All-SEC honors, and leading the Crimson Tide to an unbeaten record up until a rematch with Watson and Clemson in the National Title game, where Hurts watched the lead he took in the final minutes fall helplessly to a legendary Watson drive.
Rinaldi: What do you remember thinking in the moment when Nick Saban told you Tua was coming in?
Hurts: I’m a competitor. I would have loved to comeback, and come back in the game and bring the team back like I’ve done many times before. But it happened the way it did and we were National Champions at the end of it.
Rinaldi: On an emotional level what do you feel?
Hurts: Um, you put emotions to the side.
Rinaldi: You’re not a robot!
Hurts: I’m not a robot but outer yourself and enter the team. Me being emotional what good what that had do for the guys around me? The goal of being able to hold up a National Championship trophy, and achieve that goal as a team regardless of how it got there, its a joyful moment.
Rinaldi: Then we come to the SEC championship game, and its Georgia again. It’s almost like you couldn’t script this, right? The way it plays out.
Hurts: I think that entire deal; from my freshman year, to my sophomore year, to my senior year, it taught me so much. Wisdom, to never lose faith, whatever it is I’m born for that storm and I’m built to overcome it.
Hurts had the entire world at the palm of his hands, sure he was coming off a loss in the National Championship game, but to one of the greatest competitors the sport has seen in recent history. The man who’s head coach referred to him as ‘Michael Jordan’ during his draft season, surely nothing lose sleep over. However, there was something capable of ruining it all, you see despite the success Hurts saw during his time at Alabama, there always seemed to be criticism surrounding his abilities as a passer. So when the left handed 5-star recruit arrived the clock was always essentially ticking before a quarterback controversy unfolded. A controversy that happened at the most awkward of moments after one of the immaculate two year stretches in Alabama history. A stretch that saw Hurts go 25-2 as the starter and break numerous Alabama records, ended as the team was down 13-0 in the National Championship game to a conference foe.
Though the controversy lasted for another season as being the competitor Hurts is, he returned to Alabama for his junior season in efforts to reclaim the job. And what else was he supposed to do? Quit? Leave? That goes against everything that Jalen Hurts represents. While Sabin tried to stretch out the competition for as long as he possibly could, in the end it was Tua Tagovailoa who came away victorious.
While an Hurts was allowed a moment at redemption following Tagovailoa going down with an ankle injury against the same team the everything he had built up until the initial benching. And was a moment that Hurts handled like only he could; with class, dignity, and respect. Still with a degree in his possession and one year of eligibility left at his disposal, Hurts had a journey left unfinished.
Rinaldi: You almost made Nick Saban cry, nobody does that!
Hurts: I got a lot of appreciation for him and a lot of respect for him.
Rinaldi: I’ve heard it said that you two are similar, what do you think about that?
Hurts: More similar than people realize. I think he’s a relentless competitor, takes a straight on approach with what he does. And those similarities are the exact reason I chose to go to that university.
Rinadli: What is your relationship these days with Tua Tagovailoa?
Hurts: That’s a relationship that will never go away, die down. Talk to him and kept in touch with him all year. I’m pulling for him as always.
Rinaldi: How do you describe the season you had at Oklahoma?
Hurts: I went to Oklahoma and I had to earn everything I got. I just went there and worked and I went there to win a National Championship. I wanted to do that for the university, for Coach Riley. We came up short… Going to that university, playing that position, you know you got all of these external people that don’t matter. ‘Oh he’s not going to do anything, he wont compare to previous quarterbacks.
Rinadli: Following the footsteps of two consecutive Heisman Trophy winners?
Hurts: Some people thought I was even silly to do that, but that was the least of my worries. I didn’t go there to hoist any individual trophy. To do anything else other than win ball games for the guys
Jalen Hurts at Oklahoma was a completely different Jalen Hurts than what we saw at Alabama. Think of it as the tail of two careers of Michael Vick; when Vick was in Atlanta, the world fell in love with his abilities to single handedly take over a game. How Vick would find a way to win games even if it meant doing it himself. Still despite how electric Vick was on the ground, because of his limitations passing the ball there were always going to be limitation in how far Vick could take Atlanta. However once Vick went to Philadelphia and became a better passer, it looked like his career had a rebirth. Remember earlier when Hurts said there was no cap on his potential? Well under to tutelage of Lincoln Riley that certainly came to fruition and Hurts saw his draft stock take a significant leap and him come just should of becoming the universities third consecutive Heisman trophy winner. To put this in perspective during two full seasons as the starter at Alabama, Hurts passed for 4,861 yards, 40 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Compared to his one season at Oklahoma where he produced 3,851 yards passing, 32 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Talk about a complete 360.
A polarizing figure for sure, were talking about a guy who was benched after only losing two games in two years because of questions surrounding his abilities as a passer. Yet just 365 days later there he is next to the first two picks in the 2020 NFL Draft and a sure fire first round selection this year and here are scouts with reports all over the place regarding how he’s viewed at the NFL level.
Rinaldi: Four years of college. How many times did you experience losing?
Rinaldi: Four games? You know its not going to be like that in the NFL?
Hurts: We’ll see.
The path was never easy and the road to greatness has had its fair share of ups and downs for Jalen Hurts. So why would the road come any easier at the NFL level? Of course when you’re a high recruit, get the chance to play quarterback at a high level for two of the premier schools in the nation, are the holder of many records and a finalist for numerous trophies including most prestigious in all of College Football, you would think that you’d hear you name amongst the first to be called, that wasn’t the case for Hurts. When you think about how polarizing a prospect he is, you would think if you had a solidified quarterback you wouldn’t bring these ‘Tim Tebow-esque’ situation into you locker room. Yet for some reason Howie Roseman saw it fit to bring him in after just removing the most polarizing figure in Philadelphia Eagles history just one year prior. And you would think that just like every other rookie, Hurts would have the opportunity to be eased into the dramas of the NFL, however lucky for Hurts he was bought into what was building to be one of the most toxic situations in all of football. But he’s here now and somethings just never change, “I’m doing what I need to do on my end, working my tail off trying to build those relationships with my teammates. So you know, I’m doing what I got to do.” Just like Channelview, just like in Tuscaloosa, and just like in Norman. Only this time he is a city that could possibly rank at the top of this list of fans that are the most passionate. But of course, if you know Jalen Hurts, you know he’s always as cool as the other side of the pillow.
“I am my fathers child. People talk about how poised and how relaxed I am on the field. But I think all that comes from him.”
How could you not be sold on this kid?
Featured Image: Bill Streicher /USA Today Sports