In one of the most in-depth reports yet on former University of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts’ storied college football career, the 2019 Heisman Trophy finalist discusses his relationship with Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban and “the special place” Bama will always have in his heart.
ESPN on Thursday published an article entitled, “Jalen Hurts has captivated two of college football’s most rabid fan bases.”
The report chronicles Hurts’ journey — which he has called unprecedented in the past — from high school to UA to leading the Oklahoma Sooners against LSU in the College Football Playoffs semifinal against LSU this coming Saturday.
Of course, when discussing that journey, his time at Alabama always seems to be distilled to two games now: the National Championship game against Georgia in which Hurts was benched at halftime and the SEC Championship game against the Bulldogs the following season in which Hurts took over for an injured Tua Tagovailoa and led the Tide to an Hollywood-esque comeback victory.
ESPN’s article details that this moment seemed to be destined, or at least Hurts thought it was.
“Every time he came to me,” UA head strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran told ESPN, “I said, ‘Dude, I just have this feeling that you’re going to go in and be Superman. You’re going to take off the glasses, go in the phone booth and put on your Superman outfit and come out and save the day. I don’t know when it’s going to be. It could be Game 7.’”
“No,” Hurts would reportedly respond, “it’s going to be definitely against Georgia, right?”
Alabama played Georgia in the SEC championship game, a reprise of the national championship game the year before, right down to being back in Atlanta. Hurts recalls that being his best week of practice all season.
“In my head, I just felt like, ‘Heisman front-runner goes down, and I come in and win the game,’” Hurts added. “I knew it was going to happen the whole time. Same stadium, same team, same uniforms, same sideline. I mean, just different hair.”
That exact scenario played out, and remembers when Hurts scored the winning touchdown with 1:04 to play and then mimed pulling his shirt apart to reveal an “S” on his chest in a Cam Newton-style Superman celebration.
And, of course, that postgame will live in Tide lore for generations, too. Saban, long known for his stoicism, put his arm around Hurts and could barely choke out words in his emotional nationally televised on-field interview.
“I’m so proud of this guy for what he’s done this year,” Saban memorably said. “I can’t even tell you.”
Hurts, speaking moments after Saban, humbly emphasized, “I put it in God’s hands. I put it in God’s hands. He handled it for me and here we are.”
ESPN’s Thursday report also outlined how Hurts and Saban grew to realize they had much more in common than a love for winning. Their personalities and outlooks seemed to be a perfect match, which is something that originally drew Hurts to the University of Alabama.
“We had the same approach to stuff,” Hurts explained. “But it’s like he didn’t realize that I was a mirror image of him. It didn’t hit him [that], ‘I’m just like you, coach. I’m pissed, just like you are. I’m eager for opportunities to get better, just like you are.’”
“I think that’s why we always had a love for each other,” Hurts added of the similarities with Saban, “and our relationship will never die because of that connection.”
ESPN wrote, “That’s what made his decision to transfer to Oklahoma so emotionally wrenching.”
The outlet continued to report that Hurts misses his former Tide teammates. However, his decision to transfer to Oklahoma has paid major dividends for him on the field. His legacy could grow even more when the Sooners play LSU for a shot at the National Championship in two-days time.
Saban this season has said of Hurts, “There’s never been a guy that anywhere in college football that did things more correctly and set a better example as a leader than Jalen Hurts did while he was here by staying here after he was replaced as a starter.”
“I have the utmost respect for this guy as a person and a competitor — and glad to see him doing well,” Saban added.
You can read the entire ESPN report here, which has much more on Hurts, including commentary from his father and former Tide offensive coordinator Mike Locksley.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn