Jalen Hurts built for this
He just gets it, might be the simplest way to say it. Jalen Hurts, the former Alabama star and now Oklahoma quarterback, is very cognizant of how strange and different his situation is.
Hurts has seen about everything there is to see during his college years, and now he’s bringing that unique perspective to Norman in hoping to help the Sooners earn their eighth national championship.
He’s aware, and he’s ready.
“I’m not your average Joe,” said Hurts, who addressed the media as an OU quarterback for the first time Wednesday afternoon. “Kind of built for these types of situations. There’s never been really anything that’s been in my way that I couldn’t overcome or see through.”
The proof is there. From being a true freshman and leading the Crimson Tide to the national championship game to being replaced in the second half of the national championship game as a sophomore as Alabama earned another title to biding his time and waiting for his opportunity as a junior, every year has brought a new challenge for Hurts.
He’s betting on himself, and he’s setting the precedent all at once. The graduate transfer option has exploded in college football in recent years, but it’s never been someone the caliber of Hurts making such a huge move. Going from one blue blood program to another, even after having all that success in Tuscaloosa.
OU isn’t a step down for Hurts, and he knows it. Hurts is battling for the chance to be OU’s starting quarterback for the 2019 season and follow in the footsteps of Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, the back-to-back Heisman Trophy Award winners for 2017 and 2018.
“You never get a guy that does those things, not lose that many games and end up in that situation,” Hurts said. “Then to get an opportunity of a second chance, so to say, and take advantage of it. That doesn’t happen that often either. Then you get to go to another top-tier school and you’re in a situation where you end up replacing two Heisman winners.
“You can’t look back in history and say that’s happened ever. All of it. The whole scenario. The whole shebang. You probably won’t be able to say it’ll happen again. So, I think this whole situation is unique. Everything about it is unique. For me, I know it’s happening to a unique person.”
Following Alabama’s loss to Clemson in the national championship game, Hurts became the biggest free agent in college football. What transpired after was a whirlwind three-day tour with stops at Maryland, OU and Miami in consecutive days.
A few days later, Hurts penned his farewell letter to Alabama and picked OU in an article for The Players’ Tribune in mid-January. Again, very different compared to most announcements, but something Hurts was eager to do.
Hurts mentioned there were a lot of factors that went into picking the Sooners although he didn’t elaborate too much. Just gave a quick glimpse into what separated OU from everybody else.
“Coach Riley has been very upfront and honest with everything,” Hurts said. “Ultimately, we’ve gotta go to work. We’ve gotta work. Definitely no handouts anywhere. Just really us being on the same page on those things and really trying to push the envelope on getting things done.”
A son of a high school coach, and with experience upon experience to fall back on, Hurts is ready to talk about the now and how it has all made him stronger.
“I think that all of those experiences, I'll say, that helped me for the better,” Hurts said. “I guess experiencing that success early then kind of hit a little adversity on the run – that made me better. I was able to see things differently, have a different perspective on things, and I think that’s kind of led up to me being the person I am standing here before you today.”
Who he is happens to be someone trying to replace two quarterback legends in Mayfield and Murray. What he finds himself doing is having his fifth offensive coordinator in four years with Lincoln Riley now calling the shots.
It’s a different team, but in the end, it’s the same mission.
“I know for this team this year, what we want to do is create a new standard for ourselves,” Hurts said. “A standard that kind of consists of having a tenacious mentality, a relentless approach in what we’re doing and really having the will of not being denied.
“The things I've done and achieved, those won't help us win any games in the fall. This is not about the past. It's about what are we going to do with the time we have together as a team.”
Hurts understands what he has thrown himself into. The expectations from OU fans is national title or bust, but nobody has higher expectations for Hurts than the quarterback himself.
He said he views himself as a perfectionist, which can be frustrating as he’s trying to learn Riley’s offense and keeping in mind three months ago his goal was to beat OU with Alabama. As he continues to learn what he needs to do on the field, nothing has changed for him off the field.
A leader at Channelview (Texas) High. A leader in Tuscaloosa. Now? Those same leadership qualities are shining through in Norman.
He’s not going to be the intense trash talker like Mayfield. He won’t be dripping in endless swag like Murray. It’s not Hurts, and he’s not pretending that’s who he is.
What he is, though, is perhaps the right guy for this team at exactly the right time.
“When I look back on this year, I'd rather say I said too much than said too little,” Hurts said. “I'd rather lead too much. Coach Riley wants me to be aggressive with that. So that's the approach I'm taking with it.
“The biggest thing about this thing is achieving what we want as a team, getting what we want accomplished as a team. Doing what we want as a team. I feel like if we can come together and do those things, work hard, build that bond in all phases, the sky’s the limit.”
It’s a tough task, a difficult challenge, but it’s par for the course for Hurts. Because he knows if anybody can do it, he can.