When former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts announced he was leaving Tuscaloosa, his decision was met with nothing but respect and praise. The 220-pound star gave the Alabama Crimson Tide and head coach Nick Saban three years of memories, but his time there was over. It became Tua Tagovailoa's show, and that meant the guy who began his career 26-2 as a starting quarterback, then came off the bench to deliver Alabama a come-from-behind win in the 2018 SEC Championship game, needed to find a new home.
Luckily, there was a Heisman Trophy-sized gap that needed filled, and Oklahoma Sooners coach Lincoln Riley needed a new starting QB. Baker Mayfield won the 2017 Heisman Trophy, then went No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft. Kyler Murray won the Heisman last year and will be a first-round pick in this year's draft. With one more season of college football to showcase his talent, Jalen Hurts has the chance to do something many thought was impossible and bring a third-straight Heisman Trophy to Norman, Oklahoma.
The graduate transfer knows exactly what that would take, including winning over the Oklahoma football locker room before spring practices even began.
"Jalen's kind of an old soul," the 35-year-old Riley told ESPN. "When you're sitting there talking to him, you don't feel like you're talking to a young man. Hell, I feel like he's older than me talking to him, honestly."
Riley's done this dance in handling a "quarterback competition" before and has stated at the University of Oklahoma's starting job is still up for grabs. Despite his political positioning to avoid controversy with the media, the rest of his team isn't so bashful about praising their newest teammate.
"You would've thought he'd already been here, the way he came in and set the standard, what the standard is supposed to be ... if you want to be a great team," defensive back Parnell Motley said. "He came in ready to lead this team and ready to pick up right where we left off."
Despite success at the quarterback position, the most important trophy has eluded OU since 2000. This team is hungry for a shot at the national title game after two-straight trips to the College Football Playoff resulted in zero wins.
"He's been to where we're trying to go," said junior wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who came up with Hurts when both were elite high school recruits in Texas. "We're gonna follow his footsteps."
All three seasons he was with Alabama, Hurts and the Crimson Tide reached the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Twice Alabama lost to the Clemson Tigers, and the other game was when Tagvovailoa famously replaced Hurts and led Alabama to an overtime victory over Georgia.
Don't expect the graduate transfer to settle for anything less than a championship in his last season.
"I think I clearly understood what I got myself into, but I also know that I have expectations for myself," Hurts said. "I'm kind of built for these type of situations."
Good luck to other quarterbacks on this roster, Tanner Mordecai, Colt Atkinson, Conner McGinnis, Tanner Schafer, and incoming five-star recruit Spencer Rattler. Lincoln Riley won't admit it yet, but this is Jalen Hurts' team, and he's going to get the chance to prove that he never stopped being one of the nation's greatest leaders on the field next season.
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