Jalen Hurts' Value Goes Way Beyond Stats
We will probably never know the specific details of what happened in the Alabama locker room at halftime of the 2018 College Football Playoff national championship game. We just know what happened next.
After Alabama head coach Nick Saban benched his starting quarterback, Jalen Hurts, in favor of true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide rallied from a 13-0 halftime deficit to defeat Georgia 26-23 in overtime. It is one of the most dramatic, memorable games in college football history. And while Alabama's amazing comeback was the top story, Hurts being benched wasn't far behind. Careers have crumbled under way less stress.
Fast-forward five years. Hurts is now the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, a Pro Bowler and an NFL MVP candidate in just his third season.
So how in the world does one go from that day, and that benching, to this?
The answer is Jalen Hurts' stats don't tell the story of what kind of person, or player, he is. It's about much more than that.
Channelview High's Finest
Jalen Hurts' backstory seems pulled from one of those AI/chatbot things if you were to instruct it: "Tell me how to create a perfect football player."
Raised in Channelview, Texas, he grew up around football. His father, Averion Hurts, was a star offensive lineman and track and field athlete at Channelview High before going on to play for Howard Payne University, where he was an all-conference offensive lineman and All-American in track and field.
Averion Hurts and his wife, Pamela, had three children: two boys, Aversion Jr. and Jalen, and a daughter, Kynnedy, their youngest child. In 2006, Averion Sr. was hired as the football coach at Channelview High, where Averion Jr. played quarterback for him first and graduated in 2012 before going on to play for Texas Southern.
A few years later, it was Jalen's turn.
Into the Pressure Cooker of Big-Time College Football
Channelview High got eight years of having a quarterback on their roster with the last name of Hurts. First, older brother Averion Hurts Jr. (2008-11), then Jalen Hurts (2011-15), the two sons of Channelview head coach Averion Hurts Sr. Averion Jr. was very good. But Jalen was great.
Jalen was the District 21-Class 6A Most Valuable Player his final two seasons, passing for 2,384 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushing for 1,391 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior.
Hurts, at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, was rated as a four-star recruit and became one of the top dual-threat quarterback recruits in the country for the Class of 2016. He could have played in any of the Power Five Conferences but chose his shiniest offer — defending national champion Alabama and legendary head coach Nick Saban.
Jalen graduated from high school early, moved to Tuscaloosa, and enrolled in school in January 2016. It was the start of a wild ride.
The Crimson Tide's True Freshman Sensation
Jalen Hurts went through spring practice with Alabama in 2016 — when he should have still been in high school — and became the first true freshman to start for the Crimson Tide in 32 years. Hurts threw for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns to go with 954 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, setting school records for single-season rushing by a quarterback and for touchdowns in a single season.
Hurts was a finalist for the Manning Award, given to the nation's top college quarterback, and led Alabama to a perfect 12-0 regular season before blowout wins over Florida in the SEC championship game and Washington in the College Football Playoff (CFP) semifinals.
Hurts was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year and SEC Freshman Year and featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated headed into the 2017 CFP national championship game against Clemson — a rematch of the previous year's game won by Alabama.
'Don’t Waste a Failure'
Jalen Hurts' quest to become just the second true freshman quarterback in college football history to win a national championship — and first since 1985 — came to an end in the 2017 CFP national championship game with a 35-31 loss to Clemson.
For the first time, Hurts seemed mortal, going 13-of-31 passing for 131 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 63 yards and one touchdown. Those numbers paled in comparison to his counterpart, Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson, who threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with one second left, along with rushing for 43 yards and another touchdown.
After Alabama's loss, expectations were very clear heading into the 2017 regular season. They were reflected in Alabama's mantra for the season — "Don't waste a failure" — a direct reference to learning from their loss to Clemson.
Criticism Mounts for Alabama, Hurts
Alabama entered the 2017 regular season ranked No. 1, and quarterback Jalen Hurts was a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. But they found a much rougher path to the national championship game than the previous year.
Their struggles were mainly highlighted by Hurts' drop in production, throwing for 700 fewer yards and six fewer touchdowns and rushing for 100 fewer yards and five fewer touchdowns. The letdown was capped by a 26-14 loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
Despite the loss, Alabama still earned a spot in the College Football Playoff and advanced to the CFP national championship game, where they would face SEC rival Georgia.
Benching of a Lifetime
There's no way around it. Jalen Hurts was miserable in the first half of the 2018 CFP championship game against Georgia, going 3-for-8 passing for 21 yards and rushing for 47 yards as Alabama found itself in a 13-0 hole at halftime.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban made the call of a lifetime by benching Hurts for true freshman Tua Tagovailoa as the Crimson Tide rallied for the win and the national championship in overtime. Hurts didn't pout or outwardly show his disappointment on the sideline, instead helping Tagovailoa through every timeout and break. After the game, he was effusive in his praise of the freshman quarterback.
Later that night, in a hotel room and surrounded by his immediate family, Jalen finally broke down and the tears flowed. What would he do now? What would his future, which once looked so promising, now hold for him?
Earning Respect Through Resiliency
The pain and humiliation of being benched for the second half of Alabama's national championship win over Georgia would have broken most athletes. Jalen Hurts is just made of different stuff.
In the pre-transfer portal era of being able to move schools without the penalty of sitting out an entire season, Hurts' best option was to return to Alabama for the 2018 season and try to get his diploma, which would qualify him as a graduate transfer and allow him to play immediately at another school if he so desired.
Alabama opened the season ranked No. 1 for the third season in a row, and Hurts served as Tagovailoa's backup for the entire 2018 season. But Hurts rallied Alabama to a 35-28 win over Georgia in the fourth quarter of the SEC championship game after Tagovailoa was hurt, throwing for one touchdown and running for another score.
Second Chance in the Big 12 Conference
Alabama ended the 2018 season with a blowout loss to Clemson in the CFP championship game. Just days after the loss, Hurts, who graduated from Alabama in December 2018, announced he was transferring to Oklahoma. As a graduate transfer, he was eligible to play immediately.
Hurts made the most of the opportunity, throwing for 3,851 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions to go with 1,298 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the way to a Big 12 championship. Oklahoma finished the season 12-2 and earned a spot in the CFP semifinals, where they lost to eventual national champion LSU.
Hurts finished as the Heisman Trophy runner-up to LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.
Philadelphia Eagles Hand Keys to Hurts
Jalen Hurts reinvigorated his career — and his NFL prospects — during his one season at Oklahoma. He was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft with the No. 53 overall pick and signed a four-year, $6.025 million contract.
Hurts became the Eagles' starter late in the 2020 season, and after head coach Doug Pedersen was fired, he was named the starter going into the 2021 season by new head coach Nick Sirianni.
In 2021, Hurts led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing and rushing touchdowns, and Philadelphia qualified for the playoffs, losing to Tampa Bay in an NFC wild-card game.
The NFL's Breakout Star of 2022: Jalen Hurts
The promise Jalen Hurts showed in 2021 turned into full-fledged stardom for the Channelview, Texas, native in 2022 with the Philadelphia Eagles. He went 14-1 as a starter (missing two games due to injury) and was named an NFL All-Pro, selected to his first Pro Bowl, and named one of five finalists for the NFL Most Valuable Player Award.
Hurts tied a franchise record with 35 total touchdowns while throwing for 3,501 yards and rushing for 760 yards. Hurts led Philadelphia to the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, where they are set to host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game on Jan. 29, 2023.
Resiliency Pays Off for Jalen Hurts — Literally
Few athletes, ever, have displayed the type of resiliency Jalen Hurts has over the last five years when it comes to his playing career. It all goes back to his infamous benching in the 2018 CFP national championship game.
Hurts won't be an underrated quarterback anymore. Now, he's on the verge of becoming one of the highest-paid players in the NFL. He's eligible for a contract extension following his third season in the NFL.
While the Philadelphia Eagles have the option of putting the franchise tag on Hurts for the 2023 season, which would play him around $31 million, it's more likely he'll receive an extension that could end up being worth $200 million to $250 million over five years, with guaranteed money worth around $120 million to $150 million guaranteed.
There's something to be said about being resilient.