By MIKE HERNDON
Picture sharpens to a football field, where 21 players stand while one is behind helped off the field, arms slung around two trainers, walking gingerly. Camera follows this player as he exits, then picks up another running past him onto the field. This player, jersey number two, taps the helmet of the injured player as he runs past and into the offensive huddle.
If it was, in fact, a movie script, it’d have been rejected for being too sentimental, too improbable. The quarterback, having lost his starting job despite only losing two games in the previous two years, resists the obvious urge to transfer and contents himself with clipboard-holding and mop-up duty. Then, in the biggest game of the year to that point, the starter is injured and he is called upon again, his undefeated team losing, and he trots onto the field to again become a hero.
This improbable storyline was Jalen Hurts’ life this month. With the SEC championship on the line, Alabama found itself trailing Georgia, the same opponent against whom Hurts essentially lost his starting gig a year ago when Tua Tagovailoa was called upon in the second half to relieve an ineffective Hurts and win a national championship.
This month, it was Hurts’ time to flip the script. It was Tagovailoa who couldn’t move the offense in the SEC championship game, and ultimately left the game with an ankle injury, and it was Hurts who came on to rally the Crimson Tide past the Bulldogs once again.
The quarterback breaks into the open field and crosses the goal line, just as he his hit and spun around by a defender. Camera pans to line judge running in from the sideline, arms raised to signal: Touchdown. Shot widens to show offensive players celebrating, fans in stands cheering and screaming in joy.
We were all taken in by the story – admit it, you were too. What perfect redemption – the same situation, a championship game, and even against the same team. What a perfect moment with which to reward a player who had seemingly proven himself selfless in the fact that he was even there.
Back in the summer, rumors swirled that Hurts would transfer if Tagovailoa won the starting job in fall camp as many expected. It would have been the logical thing to do, the thing that practically every other quarterback in his position has done the past few years. No one wants to sit. Players want to play. If they can’t get on the field where they are, they go someplace else.
The rumors continued as Hurts was not made available to the media, and his father fanned the flames by publicly insinuating that his son would be “the biggest free agent in college football history” if he didn’t win the job in fall camp. But he didn’t leave. And when he finally got a chance to address the situation publicly in August, he told us exactly why.
“I’m about to graduate in December so why leave?” he said, as reported by al.com and other outlets. “Even though I’m not in a situation in which I think I should leave, I’m here. Why do that when you’re only 15 credits, 15 hours away from graduation?”
Now that he’s a hero again, now that the stars aligned to show that the decision he made was the right one, Hurts is being lauded as a great example of what a teammate should be. And he is, as we saw in the way he handled his benching last January – congratulating Tagovailoa after every big play, celebrating after the final horn as though he’d led the charge — and the way he’s handled this entire season.
But that’s not really the story here. Wanting to stay with his teammates and help them win another national championship may have been part of the reason Hurts didn’t transfer, but it wasn’t the main reason. He told us the main reason – to finish his degree.
Some will use Hurts’ story as an example of why the scores of college players who transfer every year are somehow betraying their programs by leaving. And those people, who conveniently ignore when coaches essentially do the same thing in switching jobs, have missed the point just as surely as those Georgia defenders missed their chance to tackle Hurts on his game-winning touchdown run.
This movie pitch isn’t about a great teammate, though Hurts certainly is one. It isn’t about a selfless athlete who sacrifices everything to put his team before all else. It’s about a guy who has his priorities in order. In an age where so many student-athletes make their decisions based on purely athletic concerns, Hurts put his education first.
This week, Jalen Hurts did what he said he wanted to do – he graduated from the University of Alabama. With that now accomplished – and another national title a distinct possibility next month — the rumors will again swirl that Hurts will transfer. As a graduate transfer with a year of eligibility remaining who would be immediately eligible wherever he chose to go, it will make perfect sense if he does.
Will Hurts be something less than a great teammate in your mind if he leaves Alabama this spring? The answer will say more about you than him.
(Photo from Twitter/@JalenHurts)
Categories: College football