The city of Houston, Texas is Nick Saban’s favorite recruiting base.
Jaylen Waddle has proved to be an elite talent at receiver and as of last week, a quarterback has cemented himself as a legend at the University of Alabama – regardless of where his journey takes him after this season.
It was inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium back in January, where doubts of Jalen Hurts remaining with the Crimson Tide started to rise. He did not have his best performances leading up to the national championship meeting versus Georgia and with Tua Tagovailoa rescuing the game as a freshman, the popular idea was seeing the junior venture elsewhere in search of a starting job.
He dealt with criticism from national media and bandwagon fans to his own father; however, Hurts stuck with what he deemed most valuable: his teammates and his work ethic. Nick Saban said throughout the summer on how Alabama would need both quarterbacks to be successful.
Regardless of what he thought, most felt that taking the redshirt and moving on was the best fit for Hurts.
In transitioning from starter to backup, he has done more than improve. Hurts was willing to learn from Dan Enos as quarterbacks’ coach and after seeing the positive differences he’s made in the passing game; the former Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Year was able to receive the words that he had spoken on Tagovailoa at the end of last season.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder took over for the injured Tagovailoa (ankle) in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship Game versus the Bulldogs. With the Tide trailing by seven points – 28-21 – and Georgia holding all momentum, the once dread-headed assassin went to work.
Using both his arm and his trademark footwork, Hurts converted three third downs – including a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy to tie the game.
Much like his scoring toss against Clemson in the 2017 Sugar Bowl, Hurts starting scrambling as though he was going to run but then found Jeudy in the back corner of the end zone for the score.
Prior to the connection, he completed passes to Irv Smith Jr. and Jaylen Waddle that both went for critical first downs.
Video comes via CBS Sports
JALEN HURTS. TIE GAME.
Football is awesome. pic.twitter.com/NyiEWREIaC
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 2, 2018
While Tide fans took over the venue on that possession, Hurts’ next drive had his name being chanted throughout the building. After finding Smith and Waddle on back-to-back completions, his next play was reminiscent of his freshman year in a national title showdown with Clemson.
The sea opened with the ball on the 15-yard line and once he took a peek downfield, it was touchdown or nothing for Hurts. He flew by the first two waves of defenders and then took on what looked a like a close-line tackler into the end zone for the game’s biggest moment.
Jalen. Legend. Hurts. pic.twitter.com/Wdr5WFncn4
— Stephen M. Smith (@CoachingMSmith) December 2, 2018
Alabama had its first lead of the night and it came from someone who said in the summer that he was not leaving the program – despite the chaos surrounding him. Upon the clock hitting all zeros and the confetti falling in favor of the Tide, it was Hurts getting the loudest ovation, a smile from his coach and a hug from someone that sees him as an inspiration: Tua Tagovailoa.
On a night that saw him total three scores and effectively throw the ball, it has been Hurts’ commitment drawing his teammates to understand his leadership. After speaking with long snapper Thomas Fletcher, he said the Tide “does not” win this game without Hurts.
“First off, I love both guys unconditionally,” Fletcher said on Hurts and Tagovailoa, following the Tide’s 35-28 win over Georgia. “The fact that we can have two quarterbacks on the same team that are unbelievably talented and are great leaders for the team is amazing. What Jalen did tonight in coming into a game where you don’t know if you are going to have an opportunity to play as a second-string quarterback…the fact that he came in and did what he did was huge.”
As a former walk-on, linebacker Jamey Mosley knows all too well on the importance of seizing every chance.
When he watched his quarterback reach the end zone, the product of Theodore High School said “it’s a testament of his faith.”
“He’s blessed and I’m blessed to have him,” Mosley said of Hurts.
He was certainly focused on keeping the energy level up for Alabama’s defense, but sophomore linebacker Dylan Moses did flash a smile when his team took the lead.
In terms of Hurts, Moses said he “balled out and did what he was supposed to do.”
“I am really proud of Jalen,” Moses said. “I know he went through a lot and I know it hurts, but I am just happy for his success. I want him to do well. I want him to do great.”
The “he balled out today” message was the one Hurts gave to Tagovailoa in speaking with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi after the College Football Playoff meeting with Georgia. It’s now the message that fits him and it was followed with Saban quote of “I’ve never been more proud of a player as I am of Jalen.”
For all he wanted to say in the summer and all he wanted to prove to fans, No. 2 did more than state his piece. His performance has etched him in the hearts of Bama Nation in being able to handle adversity the right way, while also delivering a marquee performance when it is needed.
Congrats to Hurts and the Tide on being conference champions.
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