A Phenom’s Résumé and an Underdog’s Story: The Journey of Jalen Hurts
Mike Loxley recalls the moment he first thought about what exactly he should do with Jalen Hurts. It was spring in Alabama, warm but not yet oppressive, on the morning before a workout in March 2016. assistants,” He says.
Locksley, now the head coach of Maryland, spent most of his early weeks on the job in the quarterback’s room, supporting then-offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. The room was cluttered. The Tide included Blake Barnett, a five-star recruit and redshirt freshman, and Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell, both top 100 recruits who had been in the program for several years.
And then there was Hurts. An early entrant, he was not yet 18 years old. He was quiet but alert, with long braids and a fixed gaze. Hurts was a talented enough candidate to receive a scholarship from Alabama, but he did not receive any ranking. 192 in its class, according to 247Sport compound, much lower than that of more experienced players in the hall. However, Locksley had already noticed in Hurts a fierce thirst for improvement, an almost monastic devotion to the game.
On that day, as they left the training field, Loxley talked to Hurts about what he needed to work on and what he was already doing well. At one point, Locksley now says, Hurts looked at three quarterbacks who had entered the springball ahead of him on the depth chart.
“I’ll make every one of them transfer,” Loxley recalls Herts’s words.
Locksley couldn’t help but smile, caught off guard. “I think to myself,” Loxley says, “This guy is overconfident, or he’s just fucking overconfident.”
Nearly seven years later, the Hurts went on to play two games of the college football national championship. He was replaced by an even younger and brighter quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. He was transferred to the Oklahoma program, where he put up such tasteless numbers that they made him a Heisman finalist. He was drafted in the second round by the Eagles with quarterback Carson Wentz already engaged, only to send What quarterback packing too. He’s seen fans yell that he’s stepping off the bench in favor of substitute Gardner Minshew, who is best known for his mustache. And finally, he arrived here as an NFL MVP candidate and one of the youngest quarterbacks to ever lead his team to the Super Bowl. Oh, and he really got all three Alabama quarterbacks to move.
Along the way, reporters often asked Herts to think about his journey, but he steadfastly refused the request. “I don’t think this is the time to think,” Herts said at a press conference this week in Arizona, where the top seeded Eagles will face the top Kansas City Chiefs. “The journey is far from over.”
He is right, of course. Hurts is still too young to rent a car but is gearing up for the biggest game of his life. He may wait a little before entering I remember when stage of his career. But when people who have crossed paths with Hurts — in his hometown of Houston, Alabama, and Oklahoma — describe their memories of Hurts, a few consistent themes emerge. First, they remember the uncanny sense of calm, quiet confidence that accompanies him at every practice, meeting and game. Second, they reminisce about the relentless thirst for improvement that led him to steadily get better with every stop.
Hurts has a history of being an underdog, but a resume of the phenomenon and a coach’s kid mentality with the physique of an athletic unicorn. He grew up in Houston learning football from his father, Averion, head coach at Channelview High School. “I think you go a different way when you’re a coach’s kid,” Herts said at his press conference this week. “I think you operate with a natural love for the game, as do I. I love this game.”
DJ Mann coached Crosby High School, just 10 miles away, and he vividly remembers the first time he faced the Hurts in a seven-on-seven game. “He was a freak,” says Mann. But it wasn’t Harts’s speed or strength that caught my eye at that moment. In a seven-on-seven game, the quarterback can’t run. Instead, Mann recalls a 30-yard over-the-shoulder pass that immediately hit the wide receiver as he swept down the sideline. “One of the best shots I’ve ever seen at the high school level.”
Throughout Herts’ career, Mann often ran into him. “You see him doing all those seven-on-seven shots,” says Mann, “and then at the track and field on Friday, he leaves everyone in the dust. Then on Saturday he’s in a powerlifting competition and he’s beating guys who are a lot bigger than him.” Hurts was considered a promising player, but in the world of high school football in Texas, he was just one of many promising players. 247Sport he was ranked the 20th best recruit in the state in the composite rankings. “We all got some sleep on it,” says Mike Roach, who covers the University of Texas recruitment for 247. “It’s clear he should have been taller.”
Alabama, however, saw enough in Hurts to offer him a scholarship fairly early in the hiring process. “They pursued him relentlessly,” says Roach. “It should have been enough for people to take notice. … He achieved all the indicators: powerlifter, track and field star, son of a coach. This is the complete package.”
Hurts arrived in Alabama surrounded by old quarterbacks, and he watched as all three left one by one. Hurts replaced Barnett in the season’s third opening game against USC and led the Tide to a 52–6 win. By the end of September, Barnett was transferred. Bateman and Cornwell remained on the bench for the remainder of the season, but by the following spring they were also gone.
Montana Murphy was a random quarterback who sat on the edge of the room watching Hurts send senior quarterbacks to pack. “With that attitude, with all the accolades and everything that comes with it, it’s usually not someone that’s quiet,” says Murphy. “But with Jalen, it was a calm and quiet confidence that you just felt every time you were around him.”
Hurts passed for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns, and also rushed for 954 yards and scored 13 more points, winning the SEC Offensive Player of the Year award as a true rookie. “That first year,” says Murphy, “he relied on his physique and physical strength. He is a physically dominant person.”
Again, there was a powerlifter and a sprinter playing in a position known to neither. Hurts found gaps in the defense and slipped through them, sometimes to buy time for a pass in the outfield, but often to break away and run. He handled tackles like a tailback, passing defensemen not accustomed to facing a quarterback with such force. But that alone won’t elevate Hurts to the level he wanted—college or professional. And he knew it. “He felt like he was behind the other guys,” Loxley says. Hurts didn’t grow up with a personal quarterback coach like so many prospects do now. Raised by his father, he was an excellent high school coach, but not an expert on quarterbacks who fly around the country coaching NFL, college, and elite school QBs. “He didn’t have that luxury,” Loxley says.
So to make up for lost time, Herts dedicated himself to being a pain in the ass of his coaches. “He was the biggest grump,” says Murphy, who came to Alabama with the Hurts but later switched to being a student assistant after injuries ended his playing career. “He was the guy saying, ‘Hey Coach, can we make an extra movie? Additionally is it? Additionally what? He never left the institution. He didn’t have a social life. He just didn’t care. The whole point was to study this violation as quickly as possible.
A year after the Hurts forced three of Alabama’s top quarterbacks to move to another club, a freshman with the talent to do so arrived on campus. to him. Tua Tagovailoa was the highest ranked quarterback in the country. Such applicants do not show up in college programs expecting to sit on the bench.
Hurts kept the starting position, but whenever Alabama moved up a few dozen points and Tagovailoa came off the bench, it was clear that Hurts’ understudy was throwing one of the most beautiful balls in recent college football history. Tagovailoa evaded invaders and delivered dimes to all areas of the field, immediately proving that he was worthy of every ounce of recruiting publicity he received. Meanwhile, Herts was still developing as a passer.
However, for Loxley, Herts’ potential as a passer was clear from the start. “The fact that he throws badly is a huge myth,” Loxley says. “Coming back to Elite 11, he always threw a beautiful ball, a tight spiral. His spatial awareness on deep ball is excellent. The intermediate game he just needed to improve due to his knowledge of the defensive structure. Over time, he did.”
No longer a quiet freshman, Herts took on the leadership role of a perennial freshman. “In this position, you have to be an active leader,” says Murphy. “When he was young, he didn’t have that kind of voice. But when he spoke, he never demanded anything from you that he didn’t already do. He would not ask you to give something that he did not give. People fucking respected it.”
So far, the story of how…