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OU football: Why Jalen Hurts will do more than start for the Sooners — he will soar

NORMAN — Jalen Hurts is the starting quarterback at Oklahoma.

No surprise there.

The Sooners made official Monday what we've all known since Jan. 16, the day Hurts announced his transfer from Alabama. He was going to be the OU starter. It was only a matter of time.

But on the day that foregone conclusion became a Sooner certainty, there was plenty of talk about what would come next for Hurts. AP preseason pollsters indicated they believe he will lead OU to the College Football Playoff. Pundits, both professional and amateur, predicted Hurts will be a Heisman Trophy finalist. Former Dallas defender Marcus Spears was even on ESPN saying as much a few hours before Hurts officially became the starter.

Heady stuff.

Tough stuff, too. Few players have been able to lead their teams to the playoff and earn a seat at the Heisman ceremony. Even fewer have done it after being with their team for less than a year.

But don't be surprised if Hurts joins the few and the fewer — because he's one tough dude.

Think of everything Hurts has managed during his career. He became a starter as a true freshman, something few quarterbacks do in major-college football, and he did so at Alabama. Before Hurts, it had been more than 30 years since a true freshman quarterbacked the Crimson Tide.

Of course, Hurts was playing for Nick Saban, too. If playing quarterback for one of the premier programs with one of the most rabid and critical fanbases in the country wasn't enough, Hurts also had to answer to one of the most strident and exacting coaches in all of football.

(Lane Kiffin was also the offensive coordinator that season, so yikes.)

How did Hurts manage?

Pretty well — he led Alabama to the SEC championship and the national title game. To handle that pressure, carry those expectations, then perform at a championship level takes some serious grit.

Now, I'm not suggesting Hurts succeeded then or since on toughness alone. The guy is supremely talented. He can throw and run. He can read and adapt. He has all the measurable tools. But his toughness is a cut above.

As hearty as he was as a freshman, he took it to another level as a sophomore. He led the Crimson Tide back to the national title game, but then in the most cruel twist, he was benched at halftime. He was told to take a seat in the most public of settings. He had to stand on the sideline while Tua Tagovailoa led Alabama to the national title.

Hurts handled it with grace and dignity, even doing a postgame on-field interview that should be taught in public relations classes. He was humble. He was poised. Hurts may well have been hurting, but he didn't let it show.

That takes grit.

Then last season, he continued showing grace and poise. He returned to Alabama likely knowing he faced an uphill climb to win the starting job, but even after Tagovailoa beat him out, Hurts didn't cut and run. He stayed and worked.

And when Alabama needed him in the SEC title game, Hurts came up big. He relieved an injured Tagovailoa and rejuvenated a staggered Crimson Tide. Without him, Alabama loses that game and likely misses the playoff. But Hurts came off the bench and performed like he'd been starting all season.

That takes toughness.

Again, I don't want to undersell Hurts' talent. But what gives him a chance to arrive in Norman in January, earn a trip to New York City this December and land a spot in the playoff next January is his resilience.

When Hurts announced his transfer back in the winter with a letter to Alabama fans on The Players Tribune, he referenced the benching in the national championship game.

"Was what happened ... bittersweet?" he wrote. "Of course it was. It was a humbling experience. It was tough, man.

"But I am even tougher for it."

Then came the only sentence in his entire letter in all caps.

"I AM BUILT FOR THIS."

He showed as much at Bama, and he will do the same at OU. He will be great. He will be successful.

Why?

Because he will fight for it.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma officially named Jalen Hurts the starting quarterback on Monday, but even before that, the expectations for him were great. It will be tough to live up to such lofty standards, but doing difficult things has become a hallmark of Hurts' career. [NATE BILLINGS/THE OKLAHOMAN]</strong>

Oklahoma officially named Jalen Hurts the starting quarterback on Monday, but even before that, the expectations for him were great. It will be tough to live up to such lofty standards, but doing difficult things has become a hallmark of Hurts' career. [NATE BILLINGS/THE OKLAHOMAN]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-9ddc670a06b3b240c64decda79027acd.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma officially named Jalen Hurts the starting quarterback on Monday, but even before that, the expectations for him were great. It will be tough to live up to such lofty standards, but doing difficult things has become a hallmark of Hurts' career. [NATE BILLINGS/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Oklahoma officially named Jalen Hurts the starting quarterback on Monday, but even before that, the expectations for him were great. It will be tough to live up to such lofty standards, but doing difficult things has become a hallmark of Hurts' career. [NATE BILLINGS/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Oklahoma officially named Jalen Hurts the starting quarterback on Monday, but even before that, the expectations for him were great. It will be tough to live up to such lofty standards, but doing difficult things has become a hallmark of Hurts' career. [NATE BILLINGS/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure>
Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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