Somewhere in Jalen Hurts’ apartment, stacked in a closet perhaps or tucked away in a box under his bed, is a career’s worth of awards, recognizing honors he received ranging from SEC Offensive Player of the Year to 2017 Sugar Bowl MVP, photographs and posters featuring him prominently.
“I haven’t hung them up,” Hurts said on Thursday. “I don’t want to look at them yet. My career’s not over.”
That was the tightrope Hurts walked as the Alabama football team assembled at Hard Rock Stadium for a rare full-on, full-team meeting with the media. He seemed uncomfortable talking about the past — although, to his credit, he stood up for an hour answering question after question. As far as the future, Hurts addressed the upcoming Oklahoma game on Saturday night. Anything beyond that, he left as a mystery.
What Hurts wanted to talk about — or, more precisely, the topic that seemed less bothersome to him — was the present. He did note, as his session began, that “the backup quarterback doesn’t usually talk at these things,” said with a Sphinx-like expression that left the listener unsure if he was making a small joke or sending a signal that the whole interview process was more of a duty than a delight. He didn’t seem to view himself as the some sort of national hero, even if he did note that one of the thousands of people who reached out to him after his triumph of perseverance in the SEC Championship Game was Snoop Dogg.
“That was pretty cool,” he said.
The persistent line of questioning, though, was would he stay or would he go? There was a smattering of questions about Oklahoma — less than you’d expect, given the possibility that he will play a prominent role, given the status of Tua Tagovailoa’s surgically repaired ankle. But many were variations on a theme that repeatedly included the word “transfer.”
“I’ve spoken on that already in the fall,” Hurts said. “I’ve never said anything about transferring. Those words have never come out of my mouth. Those are assumptions. If I haven’t spoken about it, I don’t think it’s the conversation to be had.
“I’m supposed to do this, and I’m supposed to do that. Even after the game last year, I was supposed to be gone. This year, I was supposed to redshirt and all those things. I’m here. I’m here for this team and that’s what’s most important to me. Being available and being ready to work for my guys.”
How far does Hurts’ reluctance to discuss future plans extend? All the way to the office of the head coach, apparently.
“Jalen and I talk about a lot of things,” Nick Saban said Thursday. “But he doesn’t think the time is right for that conversation and I don’t think the time is right. When the time comes, we’ll talk about his future — but the time isn’t right.
Without engaging in a brief history of “time,” past, present or future, a few things seem clear. The summer controversy — when his own words that he would be a part of the Alabama team were drowned out — had a profound effect on him. His answer, if you call it that, was not worth words but with action — doing exactly what he said he would do. He has a deep affection for Alabama, now his alma mater. He spoke on Wednesday of wanting to be “an Alabama legend.” He did not say he was staying or going — only that he is, in the Alabama context, “here.”
“It’s been a long ride,” he said. “You look around and see a lot of people making assumptions for you. I’m where my feet are, getting ready for Oklahoma.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.