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Alabama Players Reflect on Hurts’ Special Moments

By Matt Smith
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Jalen Hurts led Alabama to another national championship appearance last year, his teammates reflect on some of his memorable moments.

No SEC quarterback has started a true freshman quarterback in a season opener since 2004. No true freshman quarterback in all of college football has led a team to a national championship since Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985, who replaced an injured Troy Aikman early in the season.

Why? Because playing major college football as a true freshman at any position, let alone sports’ most important one, is really, really hard.

The 31-year drought that began after Oklahoma’s championship nearly ended last season, when Alabama true freshman Jalen Hurts led Alabama on a go-ahead touchdown drive in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Clemson with three minutes remaining. The Tigers ultimately dethroned the Crimson Tide on a last-second touchdown pass, denying Hurts the opportunity to join Holieway in a very small fraternity.

Despite the near-miss, Hurts showed over the course of 15 games and 14 wins after making his Alabama debut early in the season opener that he had the special intangibles that every successful quarterback possesses.

For the rest of the Alabama offense, they experienced a transition from a fifth-year senior in Jake Coker in 2015 to a true freshman last season. Skepticism abounded, naturally, given the history of true freshmen at the position, but it didn’t take long for the Crimson Tide players to realize that Hurts was no ordinary freshman.

Senior center Bradley Bozeman reflected on the first bit of adversity that the team faced, coming in a September comeback victory over Ole Miss after a big hit (what probably should have been a targeting penalty) and Hurts fumble that was returned for a touchdown and put the Tide in a big hole on the road.

“The pivotal moment for me is probably Ole Miss,” Bozeman said. “We were down 21, or something like that, and he never dropped his head. Kind of got smacked. If I got smacked like that, I don’t know if my head would be as high as his was. I thought that moment right there was really big for him and the team.”

Star wideout Calvin Ridley fondly recalled the win over the Rebels as one of his favorite games of the season, but he was convinced even sooner than Bozeman that Hurts had what it takes to lead the Crimson Tide to the lofty heights to which they were accustomed.

“I would say the first game we played against USC,” Ridley recalled. “He fumbled the first play. It was a mix-up with him and the running back. The rest of the game I think he played really well. From there on I knew he’d be a good quarterback for us.”

While Hurts had bumps in the road in his first two starts against Power Five opponents, he and his team rarely faced moments of peril until the Clemson game. The only game between the Ole Miss and Clemson games that was competitive into the fourth quarter was a 10-0 road win at LSU, in which the Tigers offense never seriously threatened to score.

Hurts couldn’t quite match Holieway’s remarkable feat of three decades prior, but the fact that he won over his veteran teammates so early on in his career might be more impressive. The doubts of last summer under center are no more at Alabama, and joining a slightly less prestigious group of sophomore quarterbacks to lead a team to a national title would likely suit Hurts just fine.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.