OU football: Jalen Hurts' maturity looks, sounds different than other college athletes
NORMAN — Jalen Hurts opened his press conference earlier this week with a statement. Not something written down, but things he had clearly thought about.
It lasted almost three minutes.
I’ve never seen anything like that from a college athlete.
Then again, few college athletes are like Hurts.
“I’m not your average Joe,” he said at one point.
Ain’t that the truth.
It’s not just the quarterback’s backstory either. Starting as a freshman at Alabama. Going 26-2 as a starter. Losing his job at HALFTIME of the national title game as a sophomore. Playing mostly mop-up back-up duty as a junior. Then deciding to become the most ballyhooed grad transfer in the history of college sport and move to Oklahoma for his senior season.
As unique as all of that is, Hurts has long been a different breed.
- Related to this story
- Video: OU Football- Jalen Hurts
“Old soul” is how Sooner coach Lincoln Riley labeled him.
What this all means for Hurts and his Sooners come fall is anyone’s guess, but to understand why Hurts is the way he is, you need to rewind to an October evening in 2014, the night he beat his long-time high school nemesis.
He was a junior at Channelview High on the extreme eastern side of the Houston suburbs. He was playing quarterback for his dad, a longtime head coach. Playing, too, for a program he’d grown up around. Hurts, you see, didn’t go to daycare when he was little. He went to the field house after school. He went to meetings and practice and film sessions Monday through Thursday. Then on Friday nights, he went to games to be the ball boy.
He remembers watching from the sidelines as nearby North Shore beat Channelview year after year.
“Never beat this team ever,” Hurts said.
He’s not exaggerating. In its history, Channelview had never beaten North Shore.
In 2014, North Shore had another great team, including defensive lineman Dorance Armstrong, who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys. But with Hurts, Channelview had arguably its best chance ever to beat North Shore.
Back and forth the game went. North Shore would build a lead, then Channelview would come back. With only seconds remaining and North Shore leading 48-42, Hurts heaved a desperation pass into the end zone. It went off a defender and into the hands of a receiver.
With Hurts holding on the point after, Channelview made the extra point for a 49-48 win, and as chaos broke out around the stadium, Hurts remembers looking at the North Shore coach, who was looking across the field at the Channelview sideline. Hurts followed the coach’s gaze and landed on his dad, Averion.
The elder Hurts was just standing there. No hootin’. No hollerin’.
“I guess that kind of sums up where my demeanor comes from,” Hurts said. “Why I’m so stoic. Why nothing’s ever too much, ever too big.”
A lifetime around football has prepared Hurts for so many different situations. The pressure of landing the starting job at Alabama just a month after he turned 18. The disappointment of losing his job after winning 26 of 28 games. The uncertainty of moving to another powerhouse program.
And hey, let’s not forget the shoes Hurts is filling. (We’re going to assume even though Riley is saying the quarterback position is up for grabs, Hurts is going to be the guy.) He’ll be taking over for not one but two Heisman Trophy winners, and if things go as expected next month, he’ll also be standing in the shadows of the last two players taken with the overall No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
You thought Kyler Murray had it tough following Baker Mayfield?
Hurts is following both.
I asked Hurts about the challenge of being that guy.
“I clearly understood what I got myself into,” he said. “But I also know I have expectations for myself. I always have.
“I’ve always been my biggest critic.”
Lots of athletes say such things, and yet seeing him behind that press-conference podium for 30 minutes earlier this week, there was a difference in his demeanor. He was measured but mature, confident but cagey. He never said more than he wanted, but he always got his message across.
Mayfield had panache. Murray had polish.
Jalen Hurts has a little bit of everything — and what that ultimately looks like on Saturdays in the fall will be fascinating to see.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.