TAMPA, Fla.– Five quarterbacks stood inside the Hank Crisp Indoor facility last season, as media pundits gathered to watch Nick Saban and Alabama prepare for Clemson. Jake Coker, the starter, was eyeing his first national championship as the main guy. His supporting cast, which featured Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell, Blake Barnett and Alec Morris, were all pocket passers that lacked elusiveness upon pressure from defenses.
During the week, Saban heaped praise upon Tigers’ quarterback Deshaun Watson—yet no one from his camp had the skill set to provide Alabama’s defense with a sample of what lied ahead.
It would be days later before a four-star prospect from Channelview, Texas arrived on the University of Alabama campus. His name was Jalen Hurts and as a January enrollee, his goal was to be the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback. While his size and athletic abilities helped emulate Watson in 45-40 victory, the true freshman is done with being a scout team player. After earning the job in week two against Western Kentucky, Hurts would experience nearly every emotion for a typical Alabama quarterback.
Through good moments, he kept a straight face and encouraged teammates. In games where things looked bleak, he reminded his brothers to stay upbeat, assured Saban that he was fine and continued to push.
Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway was the first true freshman in college football history to lead his team to a national championship. On Monday night, Hurts can break a 32-year drought on the biggest stage at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. He has been the recipient for a multitude of awards, but there is nothing like winning the Playoff trophy for the Tide. For a young man who chose Alabama over a plethora of Big 12 schools, Saban told the media on Saturday that Hurts will simply have to take what Clemson’s defense gives him.
“They do a lot of stuff to pressure you,” Saban said. “So he’s going to have to do a good job of understanding and executing what we need for him to do to have a chance to be successful.”
What Saban, his staff and the players appreciate most about Hurts is his demeanor after a mistake. He has bounced back with clutch performances, even when accounting for 14 of the team’s 19 turnovers.
“There hasn’t been many times this year when he (Hurts) actually gets a little rattled,” Saban said. “I think that is the thing that has been very helpful to his consistency as a player regardless of where we’ve played or what the stage has been.”
Through 14 games, he’s totaled 2,649 passing yards, 891 rushing and 34 touchdowns while carrying the Southeastern Conference’s No. 1 scoring offense (39.4 ppg) and total offense (461 ypg) to the Promised Land.