Stuart McNair

Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts finds his life at Alabama has changed

Fame of being Alabama quarterback comes with celebrity price

Sorry to break this to you, Jalen, but Joe Namath is in his 70s, and he’s still a celebrity, owing in great part to having been the Alabama quarterback over 50 years ago.

Jalen Hurts, in his first year as Alabama quarterback at age 18, saw it coming when he played well as a first semester freshman at Alabama in last spring’s A-Day Game. “I had that conversation with my dad after the A-Day game,” Hurts said Wednesday in meeting with the Crimson Tide sportswriters in Atlanta, where he’ll lead Bama against Washington in the Peach Bowl Saturday.

He told his father, “Dad, my life has changed.”

His father replied, “Just wait until you step on the field.”

Remembering that exchange, and what has come since with Hurts winning the Alabama quarterback job and leading the Crimson Tide to a 13-0 record and No. 1 ranking in the nation, he said his father was right.

Hurts also said he is “getting used to this lifestyle” in which his “life has been changed forever.”

What the 6-2, 209-pound freshman from Channelview, Texas, has done is lead his team into the College Football Playoff. Bama’s 3 p.m. EST (2 p.m. central time) Saturday game against Washington in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta is the semifinal game for the national championship.

Hurts has already led Alabama to the Southeastern Conference title, and along the way been selected SEC Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback on the All-SEC team, and SEC Freshman of the Year, not to mention Freshman All-America by Scout.com, USA Today, and ESPN.

Hurts took over as Alabama’s starting quarterback midway through the season-opening game against Southern Cal and never looked back. Thus far this season he has completed 220 of 337 passes (65.3 per cent) for 2,592 yards and 22 touchdowns with only 9 interceptions. Those number notwithstanding, it is interesting that Washington defensive players say they want to keep Hurts in the pocket. That’s because he has rushed 162 times for 841 yards (5.2 per carry) and 12 TDs.

And with all this for this 18-year-old has come celebrity status.

“It’s not weird, because I know the position I’m in,” Hurts said. “I’m getting used to this lifestyle. I try to embrace it. It is what it is.”

Nevertheless, it can be uncomfortable.

Earlier this week, Alabama and Washington players took part in a cart racing activity at Andretti’s. Hurts said he couldn’t participate “because that kind of got a little hectic.”

Hurts said he’s not the type person to say no to fans wanting to make pictures with him or get autographs. “That’s disrespectful,” he said. “You have to treat the fans the best way you can.”

But it got to be too much. A security guard was assigned to Hurts. The guard said, “Look, Jalen, I don’t have a problem at all with saying no.”

Hurts told him, “It’s better coming from you than coming from me.”

He said life in Tuscaloosa “is probably five times worse.”

He did say, “Class has gotten better.” He told the story following the first day of class following Alabama’s season-opening 52-6 win over Southern Cal, in which Hurts debuted his college career with two touchdown passes and two TD runs.

He said he thinks it was “a fraternity kid” who was waiting for him when he came out of his door, and greeted Hurts with “Jalen, you the man, you the man!”

Hurts said, “Thank you. Roll Tide,” and continued on to class.

“It’s gotten better over the course of the season,” he said.

Still, he often wears a hoodie. “Some people walk up to me and say, ‘You can’t hide,’” he said with a laugh. “But I know the hoodie works sometimes, so I’ll continue to pull it off as much as I can.”

The conversation with sportswriters wasn’t all about Hurts’ celebrity status. He also talked about the upcoming game and his first year as Bama’s quarterback.

Hurts said his videotape study tells him Washington is “a good defense. They’re fast, ball hawks, so we’re in for a good one. We have to go in with the mindset of being balanced and protecting the ball.”

If there has been an issue with Hurts as quarterback in his freshman year it has been turnovers, the nine interceptions and a handful of fumbles. He thinks the experience of preparation and play during his first year is something he has learned from. ‘Hopefully, it shows on Saturday,” he said. “I think you learn a lot over a season. It’s one of those deals where experience and kind of time takes over. Everything comes in time.”

The “where do you need to improve?” question is one Hurts can’t answer. “You’re not perfect,” he said, “so you just have to improve overall, everything.

“I’ve come a long way, and I still have a way to go. But coming in early was a good experience for me because first off, I had to be (Clemson’s) Deshaun Watson — a quarterback I really respect — and it was just good getting to experience that, coming in early, getting my feet wet and doing well at what they asked me to do.”

He also said he’s not surprised to have become Alabama’s starting quarterback in his first season.

“I’ll never put limitations on my game,” he said. “From the outside looking in, I’m sure they never thought I’d be here, but it’s not about them. It’s about me and my team.

 “When I came (back) in the spring, I was getting reps with the ones immediately, so that was a sign to me. I meet with Coach (Nick Saban) sometimes, and he’d tell me I was in the picture. So for me to be in that picture as a 17-year-old at the time, it was nice.”

The key to being Saban’s quarterback, Hurts said, is “You just have to have the mentality. You have to be able to imitate him at his finest. He’s the perfect leader, and that’s what he wants in his quarterback.”

Hurts said he has had a good relationship with Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Lane Kiffin. “When I came in he taught me some stuff, and he’s still teaching me some stuff,” Hurts said. “My pops always said, eh’s going to leave in a few weeks, so use him while you can.”

Hurts said the biggest thing he had learned from Kiffin is “just to play within yourself.”

When Kiffin leaves after this season to become head coach at FAU, he’ll be replaced by Steve Sarkisian, a former head coach at Washington and Southern Cal who has served as an offensive analyst thi,s year at Alabama.

“I think we’ll make a fairly good transition into next year,” Hurts said. “Sark and Lane are very similar guys, come from the same background in a way. So I think we’ll be fine.”

Hurts is the son of a high school football coach, but it may be the best advice he’s gotten from his father is not about football.

96 Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE Hurts said that best advice was, “Keep your circle small. The bigger you get, the smaller your circle should be.”    


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