OU football: Why Jalen Hurts is having as much fun as any Sooner
Jalen Hurts hustled across the McLane Stadium turf.
He did that a lot last Saturday night.
But in the moments after Oklahoma’s historic come-from-behind victory over Baylor, he wasn’t running. He was jumping. Skipping. Dancing almost.
And every step of the way, the quarterback was smiling. It wasn’t some small, coy smile. It was a big, broad grin that opened wide his eyes, lifted up his eyebrows, even crinkled back his forehead.
He celebrated like we haven’t seen since he became a Sooner.
“Well, it’s something you want to try to soak in,” Hurts said a few days later. “The greatest comeback in school history, it’s something that we wanted to enjoy.”
Fun. Delight. Joy.
Those are things we sometimes forget in big-time college football. But as the Sooners prepare to honor their senior class, it’s safe to say no one is having any more fun than Hurts.
He doesn’t show it very often, of course. Mr. Robot is as measured and restrained as anyone to ever wear the crimson and cream. Right before his celebratory shuffle last weekend at Baylor, Hurts did one of those moments-after-the-final-buzzer, on-field television interviews like he always does.
You’d have thought he just beat East Popcorn State instead of undefeated Baylor.
But then after the camera turned off, he flipped a switch. He first hugged Lincoln Riley, and both the coach and the quarterback looked a bit like kids on Christmas morning.
Then, Hurts took off across the field, windmilling his arms at one point and beelining for the Sooner fans behind the end zone. Hurts went right up to the railing between field and fans, turned around and perched himself on the metal piping.
The smile never left his face.
Teammates joined him. Kenneth Murray. Parnell Motley. There was dancing. There was clapping. There was posing. But most of all, there was joy.
These were the kind of moments Hurts wanted when he transferred from Alabama. Sure, he wanted playing time and opportunity and all that, too. He wanted to be a starter in his final season of eligibility after being benched and replaced by Tua Tagovailoa.
But Hurts also wanted to feel the thrill of victory. He spent more than a year largely celebrating other people’s successes, their important plays, their big moments. He graciously did that in Tuscaloosa, but it didn't change his desire for his own big moments.
Even if that wasn’t top of the list for leaving Alabama, Hurts wanted it again.
Riley wanted it for him, too.
“I told Jalen before he came here that if he did come here, one of my goals was going to be for him to be able to enjoy it and have fun with it,” Riley said. “I think that’s an important part of this game.”
The coach saw how serious the quarterback was. Serious in games. Serious in meetings. Serious all the time. Riley didn’t expect that demeanor to change, but he wanted Hurts to recapture the fun of the game. Riley hoped he could have reason to celebrate big moments and big wins.
None have been bigger than last Saturday at Baylor — and Hurts’ delight was on full display.
“I think the joy was in what the team was able to do, having each other’s backs and really trusting it when it would have been easy to fold,” Riley said. “To kind of hang in there in that moment was where his and a lot of our joy came from.”
Maybe we’ll never see the emotions again quite we did after the Baylor game — four-score comebacks don’t happen every day — and this season may not end with the ultimate spoils. There may not be a Heisman Trophy or a national title or even a trip to the College Football Playoff. But last Saturday was a reminder of the fun Hurts is having this season.
He may not show it often, but rest assured, there is joy in Jalen.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.