Senior Bowl offers sweet reunion for Alabama players, Jalen Hurts
MOBILE, Ala. — As Senior Bowl events kicked off this week, Jalen Hurts was presented with a special two-sided helmet. One side featured the No. 2 he wore at Alabama while the other had Oklahoma’s OU symbol — a fitting tribute to the two schools the quarterback led to conference championships.
While Hurts’ new helmet is a symbol of his prolific college career, the Heisman runner-up will only don his most recent Oklahoma headgear as he represents the South Team this week in Mobile, Ala. That’s perfectly fine with his former Alabama teammates who are just glad to suit up with him one final time.
“I’m glad he’s on my team because Jalen’s a leader,” Alabama safety Jared Mayden said. “Natural leader. He don’t have to try too hard. It just seems like it comes natural to him. I know he’ll probably have some things to say that will get everybody ready to play. He did it at Bama. I expect no less from him. I’m excited to get the opportunity to play with him again.”
Hurts is coming off the best season of his career after transferring to Oklahoma from Alabama for his senior year. During his lone season with the Sooners, the mobile right-hander passed for 3,851 yards and 32 touchdowns while rushing for 1,298 yards and 20 scores.
His time at Alabama was equally memorable. Hurts was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 and helped lead the Crimson Tide to the national championship game in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He was famously replaced by Tua Tagovailoa in the second half of the Crimson Tide’s comeback victory over Georgia during the 2018 national championship game.
Despite losing his starting role to Tagovailoa the following season, Hurts stuck around as a backup. That allowed him to pull off one last bit of heroics for the Crimson Tide as he came in for an injured Tagovailoa to spur a fourth-quarter comeback over Georgia in the 2018 SEC Championship Game. During his three years at Alabama, Hurts threw for 5,626 yards and 48 touchdowns while adding another 1,976 yards and 23 scores on the ground.
“He’s Bama bred,” Alabama outside linebacker Terrell Lewis said, “so I’m going to still always consider him one of us.”
When asked for his opinion on the two schools, during the Senior Bowls’ media day Tuesday, Hurts wasn’t picking sides.
“Both schools are great schools,” he said. “The appreciation for them both, the love I have for them both will never go away. They’ve accepted me at both schools. Not many people can say they’ve experienced that, that they have that at two different schools. So I’m thankful for it.”
Hurts described his return to Alabama as “hectic in a good way.” The much-beloved quarterback is the biggest attraction on a star-studded South Team roster and stated he’s appreciating the love he’s received in Mobile.
“The other day, I got on the elevator and a lady just started screaming ‘Jalen Hurts is really on my elevator!’” Hurts said with a grin. “Stuff like that. That’s special to me, and I know it won’t be like that forever. I’m just soaking it all in.”
His three former Alabama teammates in attendance — Mayden, Lewis and Anfernee Jennings — have met him with a similarly warm greeting, sans the screaming.
“As soon as Jalen got here we kind of connected, linked up,” Lewis said. “We just caught up, and we’ve been walking around chilling with each other ever since he got here… You’d think we’d hadn’t been separated for a year. So it’s fun catching up with him and just being back with him on a daily basis like good ole times.”
Hurts and the South Team suited up for their first practice Tuesday as they prepare for Saturday’s Senior Bowl at 1:30 p.m. CT inside Ladd–Peebles Stadium. For what it’s worth, he wore an Oklahoma helmet. Although that matters not for his Bama brothers who are just happy for the opportunity to share a sideline with him one last time.
“It means the world,” Jennings said. “What Jalen did for us and how he handled the situation, at the end of the day he’s always going to be my brother. So we’re going to take the field with him and you know we’re going to try and get a dub.”