Hurrell's heart offsets small stature

J.P. Hurrell, a rising senior middle linebacker, had more tackles (89) last season than any WCAL player. But he also is only 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, albeit with 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash.

As an undersized running back at Concord De La Salle in the early 1990s, Patrick Walsh knows all about those "he's-too-small" and "he'll-never-play-in-college" whispers are all about.

And, yet, Walsh was named the California Player of the Year for De La Salle in 1992 after rushing for 38 touchdowns and 2,029 yards, both school records.

He was also his class valedictorian.

Now Walsh is the coach across the bay at San Mateo Serra, where his under-sized (by today's standards) Padres won their second West Catholic Athletic League co-championship during his six-year tenure.

Walsh spends a fair amount of time convincing not only the team that it can compete against larger opponents, but that individuals such as J.P. Hurrell can excel on both the prep and NCAA Division I-A level.

Hurrell, a rising senior middle linebacker, had more tackles (89) last season than any WCAL player.

But he also is only 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, albeit with 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash.

Asked if Hurrell's relatively small stature will hinder him, Walsh said: "Of course. Everyone wants the typical 6-foot-3, 230-pound guy, but that's not him. J.P. just doesn't have D.J. Hackett-like size. Will he play at USC or Florida? I don't know. But can he play for free at a Division I school? Absolutely."

Walsh should know. He earned a scholarship and played three years of football and baseball at San Jose State, then transferred to the University of Texas and played baseball there.

Walsh especially remembers a play Hurrell made during his sophomore year when the defender ran behind the line of scrimmage to chase down San Jose Valley Christian's best player after the Warriors' star had broken loose on a stretch play.

"I just said ‘Wow,'" Walsh said. "It was something."

Hurrell, whose initials stand for "John Patrick," moved to the San Francisco peninsula prior to high school. His Tongan uncles and aunts enjoyed playing basketball and rugby. He grew up playing those sports as well at big family get-togethers where a pig was typically roasted and good-natured competition took place.

Hurrell broke his arm before his freshman season and didn't play, but he was a revelation his sophomore year, starting at linebacker. He's been in the starting lineup ever since.

Hurrell and all-state teammate Tiuke Tuipulotu specialize in big hits, such as one Hurrell made on a 260-pound De La Salle lineman this season after the Spartan player recovered a fumble.

"It make you feel good when you make a big hit," Hurrell said. "Your teammates come up and congratulate you and you can hear the crowd make noises like ‘ooh' and ‘ahh.'"

Those sounds should return to Freitas Field in the fall as Hurrell and teammates like Tuipulotu, DeLeon Eskridge, Cody Jackson and Greg Guttas - all of them all-leaguers - return to the Serra lineup.

Off the field, Hurrell enjoys playing the guitar and drawing.

A B-plus student, Hurrell said he has received some interest from Stanford, Cal and Arizona State and has visited Stanford.

But will he be big enough? He's working on that with Serra strength and conditioning coach Ryan Beckwith and is hoping for the best heading into what should be a banner senior season.

"He'll eventually play at 210 pounds," Walsh said. "The most important thing is his speed and overall desire to make plays. Those are things you can't teach."

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