“Let us not grow weary of doing what is good for at just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
I love sports. It provides the greatest stories life has to offer in a bubble that plays out on national television for the whole world to see.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts never asked to be a participant in this drama, particularly in the role in which he was cast. Despite the disappointments he has encountered over the last 11 months, Hurts answered the bell when he was needed most Saturday, leading the Crimson Tide to the SEC Championship over Georgia 35-28.
Hurts entered the game with top-ranked and undefeated Alabama trailing Georgia 28-21 with 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Hurts came on in relief of injured starter Tua Tagovailoa, who left with an ankle injury after being stepped on by an Alabama offensive lineman.
Hurts drove the Crimson Tide 80 yards in 16 plays, capping off the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass that tied the score at 28-28. The drive covered 80 yards and took more than seven minutes off the clock. With the game on the line, the ensuing drive for Georgia stalled at midfield and when an attempted fake punt failed miserably, the stage was set.
Hurts marched his forces towards the finish line and with just over a minute to go, he sprinted the last 15 yards to a 13-0 mark and the number-one seed in college football’s final four playoff.
If this was the entire story, it would be a great one, but grows pale in comparison to the rest of the story.
Hurts is the son of a high school coach, growing up in Texas, where he and his older brother both played quarterback for their dad. In an interview before last year’s national championship game, his father said he watched Jalen emerge into a national prospect as a high school junior. He followed it up with a stellar senior season, graduated in December and enrolled at Alabama in January.
The additional semester prior to his freshman season paid dividends right away, as Hurts won the starting job, led Alabama to an undefeated season before falling to Clemson in the national championship game.
During the season, the Crimson Tide had a visitor at practice one afternoon, a former Alabama player, Walter Lewis. Lewis was just not any player, but the first African-American quarterback to ever play in Tuscaloosa. When Hurts was told the identity of Lewis, he made his way to him, hugged him and thanked him for clearing the way for the other African-American quarterbacks that followed.
In 2017, Hurts reeled off 10 straight wins as the Tide starter before losing to Auburn in the regular season finale. Even with the loss, Alabama was still selected to compete in the four-team playoff for the national championship.
The Tide avenged its loss to Clemson in the playoff semifinals, setting up a national championship game with SEC rival Georgia. Hurts struggled through the first half, completing just three of eight passes for 21 yards. Alabama trailed at the half 13-0.
When the Tide emerged from the locker room to start the second half, there was a change. Hurts, who had earned the starting quarterback position for Alabama when other kids were booking rooms for Senior Week, was being pulled in the national championship game in favor of Tua, the talented freshman from Hawaii.
Disappointment is tough enough in a dark room with just you and your thoughts, but can you imagine sharing it with an audience of thousands and a national television audience of millions?
Cameras during the second half focused not only Tua’s heroics on the field, but followed every significant play by Tua with a view of Hurts on the sideline. For those waiting on a story of how the rejected quarterback pouts and hopes for the replacement to fail, it never happened. Hurts coached his replacement during every Georgia possession, cheered for him when he was on the field, and when Tua threw for the winning touchdown in overtime, Hurts was the first guy off the bench to reach Tua and embrace him.
Hurts said all the right things, smiled at the right times, and left the Georgia Dome in Atlanta as a national champion. And then he cried. Not in front of an audience, but in the arms of his mom and dad Hurts admitted after Saturday’s SEC Championship game against Georgia. Hurts said he asked his father, his high school coach, what were they going to do now? His father’s response was quick and to the point, “We fight.”
Hurts battled through the spring and then through the summer with Tua for the starting position and Alabama Coach Nick Saban bristled every time he was asked who was the starter. Saban spoke of a two-quarterback system, but as the games wore on, it became obvious this was Tua’s team.
The NCAA changed rules prior to the season, allowing players to play in four games and still get a red shirt for the season, meaning those games would not count against a player’s opportunity to play four years of football in five years. When the Tide took the field in game five against Louisiana, the football saavy Alabama fans gave Hurts a standing ovation when he took the field as quarterback in the second quarter.
The redshirt was gone and Hurts had chosen to continue to fight. As the season wore on, Tua continued to shine, playing so well that Las Vegas Sportsbooks refused to take any more bets on him as the probable Heisman Trophy winner.
When Alabama took the field against Georgia for the SEC Championship game, it was like déjà vu all over gain (Thanks Yogi). Same two teams, same field from the national championship game 11 months earlier. The biggest difference was Tua was no longer the reliever, but instead the starter.
As he had done for the previous 12 games, Hurts stood along the sideline, trying to keep prepared in case his opportunity arose.
When CBS stopped Saban after the game to ask him about Hurts, he was, meaning this as a compliment, human. The ever stoic, always tough, Saban’s voice broke when he put his arm around his quarterback and said, “I’m so proud of this guy and what he’s done this year, I can’t even tell ya.”
Saban is not alone. Take a look at Hurts’ Twitter page. Here’s what you will find:
Jalen Hurts: Jesus replied, ”You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
John 13: 7
From a fan: “One day I’ll tell my son about you and what a Godly role model you are to SO many young athletes. We need more Jalen Hurts in this world. Thank you for being YOU!”
This story has moved me to tears many times since Saturday night. When you watch a young man that exudes character like Hurts, Alabama fan or foe feels the need to pull for good things to come his way.
We have no idea where Hurts will be next year, but it doesn’t really matter. What we do know is the world is a better place because Jalen Hurts and others like him are in it.