By Brent St. Germain
The Courier/Daily Comet Sports Editor
THIBODAUX, La. — Quarterback Jalen Hurts will never forget how close the Alabama Crimson Tide came to winning back-to-back national championships.
Leading 31-28 with 6 seconds remaining, Hurts and the Crimson Tide offense watched helplessly on the sideline as Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson dethroned the defending national champion at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., to close the 2016 college football season.
Watson tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow, lifting the Tigers to a 35-31 win and the program’s first national championship since the 1981 season.
For Hurts, that was not the way he wanted to end his freshman season and he said on Friday he is determined to guide the Crimson Tide back to the top of the college football mountain.
“We are really hungry to move past last season’s disappointment,” he said. “I think about it every day and it crosses my mind. We are working hard this summer, and hopefully, we can get can back to the championship game.”
Hurts has spent a lot time over the summer improving his overall game, and one of those steps was to attend this weekend’s Manning Passing Academy on the campus of Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La.
Although he has attended many football camps as high school player in Channelview, Texas, Hurts had never made the trip to Thibodaux for the Manning Passing Academy.
Hurts, entering his sophomore year at Alabama, said he is enjoying the experience and is trying to learn as much as he can from Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning and their father Archie Manning, who made a name for himself as a quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.
“It’s a great experience being around a great group of guys and having an opportunity to learn from the first family of quarterbacks,” Hurts said. “It’s a tremendous honor to just be here this weekend for the camp.”
Hurts is looking to improve upon a season where he busted onto the college football scene as a true freshman. Hurts helped guide the Crimson Tide to their third straight SEC title after passing for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns and added 965 yards rushing and 13 scores. He was named the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.
Following a breakout freshman season, Hurts’ overall play caught the eye of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, a two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.
“I had a chance to see Jalen play last season, and he can make a lot of plays throwing and running the football,” Eli Manning said. “I saw him throw the football during the camp, and he can throw it well. He is a big, strong kid and has worked hard throughout this camp. I’ve been really impressed with his work ethic and ability. He stepped right in and started marking plays right away, which was really impressive. It’s tough for any player to step right in and succeed right away.”
Improving his overall play at quarterback is Hurts’ No. 1 goal heading into the 2017 season.
He is working with Alabama’s new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to become a more efficient and balanced quarterback.
To become a better quarterback, Hurts said he has been focusing on improving on the little things.
“Your feet dictate a lot of things for a college quarterback,” he said. “If your feet are good, you can put yourself in a position to make a lot of throws. In addition to my feet, I am working on shoulder movement and looking calm whenever I am in the pocket.”
With a college football season under his belt, Hurts said he is ready to continue his progression to become one of the top quarterbacks in college football.
Hurts said he is confident the Crimson Tide will climb back to the top for the 2017 season because of one person — head coach Nick Saban.
“Coach Saban is a one of a kind, and he is definitely one of the greatest coaches to ever coach the game,” Hurts said. “It’s been great for my teammates and I because we get to learn from his every day. He has a lot of knowledge on the game, and I am just sitting back every day trying to learn as much as I can.”