Fire and ice - Inside Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts' low-key pursuit of perfection

PHILADELPHIA — When the railing near the checking out tunnel at FedEx Field collapsed previously this month, sending out about 8 fans crashing to the ground in front of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, the very first idea Andrew Collins had was: “I just blew out my franchise quarterback’s ACL.” Collins, a 26-year-old Eagles fan from Brooklawn, New Jersey, went speeding towards the unwary Hurts and made sure he had actually arrived at him.

But Hurts calmly mixed his feet, turned and narrowed himself versus the burgundy wall in one movement, in the nick of time to evade the avalanche of bodies. Then he tackled business of raising individuals up, cleaning them off and pulling them together for a welcome — and an image or 2 — prior to silently leaving phase right. That resulted in Collins’ reservation.

“This guy is as cool as the other side of the pillow,” he stated, obtaining a line from the late, terrific ESPN anchor Stuart Scott.

Hurts, who will be making his playoff launching versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox), is wired in a different way. That’s the avoid those who have actually been around him: from previous coaches who saw him do drill work as a 7-year-old on the Channelview High School football fields in East Texas to previous colleagues who saw him take command of a college locker space at 17 and end up being the very first real freshman quarterback to begin at Alabama under Nick Saban to those who saw him take control of the beginning task from Carson Wentz in Philly in 2015 as a novice. And they state they understood it was coming.

Hurts can come off as enigmatic. The 23-year-old uses a stone-faced expression in public that hardly ever modifications, no matter whether he’s taking concerns from the media, being reamed out by his coach on the sideline or coming off the field after a huge goal or back-breaking interception. He speaks simply above a whisper in the very same, consistent tone. All of this makes it almost difficult to understand what is going on below the surface area. His colleague and buddy Lane Johnson stated after the Week 17 win over Washington: “I still have never seen him happy, really, as far as [being] enthusiastic.” His previous coach, Doug Pederson, joked with Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury in 2015: “You’ve got to check his temperature sometimes to see if he’s got a pulse. I’m like ‘Dude, fire up a little bit,’ you know?”

But the stoic external forecast is paired with an inner drive one previous colleague referred to as Kobe Bryant-esque. Football — or more particularly, the pursuit of excellence in his picked craft — is a fixation, to the point that locating Hurt’s other interests is a fool’s errand.

That mix of fire and ice has actually served him well throughout his time in Philadelphia, assisting him through the quarterback debate with Wentz last season, in addition to the speculation this year about whether the Eagles will pursue another signal-caller in the offseason. Amid all that, he assisted turn a 2-5 start into a 9-8 surface, directing the Eagles into the postseason in his very first year as a full-time starter. Tom Brady and the Bucs present another test for Hurts, who will end up being the youngest beginning quarterback in Eagles playoff history. But to this point, the proof reveals Hurts does not flinch, even when the walls are toppling down around him.

“He is just a different cat, man,” as one of Hurts’ partners stated.

A daddy’s impact

Hurts wasn’t constantly so even-keeled. A preferred memory of Byron Henderson, the offending organizer and quarterbacks coach at Channelview, is of Hurts acting as the group’s ball young boy when he had to do with ten years old, and going nuts when his sibling, Averion, tossed a long goal pass.

“Jalen was on the sideline and you could see him on the field running down the sideline to the end zone, throwing his hands up in the air, celebrating with our receiver who caught the touchdown pass,” Henderson stated with a laugh.

His dad, Averion Sr., is the long time head coach at Channelview. Hurts would accompany with his papa to work, delving into drills.

“He would get in there and do ladders or change-of-direction drills. You would see him around throwing the football, whether it be to guys on the team or his brother,” stated D.J. McNorton, the pass receivers coach and pass-game organizer at Channelview.

Averion Jr. become a star quarterback for the Falcons, tossing for 3,500 backyards and 50 goals his senior year, Henderson stated. Jalen imitated his sibling, even handling a few of his quirks, including his subtle behavior. Averion went on to dip into Kilgore College and Texas Southern. If not for his height — around 5-foot-10 — he likely would have been ticketed for larger programs.

“He commanded the huddle. He knew what every receiver’s route was. He knew the blocking schemes up front. He was able to carry our offense from the QB position. His brother saw it,” Henderson stated, “and he wanted it so bad.”

To attain comparable success, Jalen would need to satisfy the needs of his dad. Averion Sr. is the kind of person who can alter a space’s temperature level simply by entering it.

“He had the stare. The stare would get you,” McNorton stated. “Whenever he walks in, they’re going to be on their P’s and Q’s and a little on their toes. He doesn’t really smile a ton, so when he comes in, you really don’t know how to take it. At times, you can see that in Jalen.”

Averion Sr. coached his kids especially hard. That was both to optimize their possible and to stomp out any idea of favoritism, his assistants think. It was a routine incident to see Averion Sr. lay into Jalen in front of the whole group. One episode in specific stuck to McNorton. Hurts was having an off day at practice — missing out on passes, stopping working to make checks out — which captured the ire of Averion, who began ripping Jalen.

“Everybody would look shocked — the kids, for sure,” McNorton stated.

“I don’t want to say all the words that were said. Jalen sat there, maybe with his one hand on his hip, just waiting for his dad to finish. No reaction. Zero reaction. The next play, he came out there, and he just drilled the ball at the receiver, as hard as he could throw the ball. And it’s maybe a 5-to-6-yard route. And he just drills the ball as hard as he can, and it hits off the receiver’s hand and maybe goes, like, 30 yards down the field. I think that was his way of being pissed but not really showing it.”

The vibrant in between Hurts and his papa is necessary to comprehending how Hurts responded — or didn’t respond — when Eagles coach Nick Sirianni offered him an earful in late December after Hurts lost a fumble versus Washington.

“I’ve been telling him all year that I’m a coach’s kid. Basically all the coaches’ kids out there know what that means. It means they’ve been coached. They’ve heard everything,” Hurts stated. “In high school I lived with the guy that was chewing me out. I made it clear to Coach all year, ‘You know, you can get on me a little bit.'”

Hurts went on to have among his finest efficiencies of the year, triggering Sirianni to joke that he’s going to need to coach Hurts like his papa did from now on.

Hurts started actually progressing his junior year, leading Channelview to the school’s only win over powerhouse North Shore on a Hail Mary. He called the video game “personal,” stating his goal was to beat every group his sibling lost to his senior season. Jalen tossed for 2,384 backyards and hurried for 1,391 backyards the next year, and he won district MVP as a junior and as a senior.

Later in Hurts’ high school profession, Henderson remembers him cruising a pass that was obstructed, costing the Falcons the video game. The stress over the headset was palpable as Hurts came off the field and approached Averion. The exchange, nevertheless, was not as explosive as prepared for.

“His dad saw in his eyes that he already knew [what he did wrong]. So he took that opportunity to, instead of coaching him hard in that situation, to being Dad in that situation,” Henderson stated.

“His dad is his second biggest critic. Jalen is his own biggest critic. He wants to be so perfect.”

It reached a point where Jalen was the one providing the extreme criticism sometimes. Channelview holds what it calls “boot camp” in the offseason where all the gamers need to dress alike and relocate unison to commands on the practice field. One day throughout bootcamp entering his senior season, Hurts noticed the group was being indifferent and went off.

“He called them on out,” Henderson stated. “He was like, ‘You’re all being lazy!’ And I’m giving you the nice version. ‘You’re all not doing what it takes to become champions. You’re all talking about what you want, to go play here and go play there [in college]. Nobody wants anybody who is not going to do what they’re supposed to do!’

“He seemed like a coach that wasn’t a coach. When I inform you it stunned not just the training personnel however the gamers too. But they all fell in line at that point and we didn’t have any issues from there.”

QB battles, won and lost

Hurts arrived at Alabama as a 17-year-old, dripping with ability and confidence — not to mention strength that belied his age. Hurts was a competitive powerlifter in high school. He was squatting over 500 pounds before he was able to drive.

The last time the Crimson Tide had had a true freshman start at quarterback was 1984, but that gave Hurts no pause, not even when he was sitting fourth on the depth chart.

“He never ever imitated he was a freshman or the youngest gamer on the group. He imitated he was the beginning quarterback even when he wasn’t,” said Josh Palet, a walk-on quarterback for Alabama in 2016. Hurts’ self-assuredness ruffled the feathers of the other scholarship QBs on the team.

“Truthfully, they didn’t like it. I indicate, how would you feel if the youngest person in the space talked like he was the beginning quarterback when he was the fourth-string person and imitated he was the male when he wasn’t? It rubbed individuals the incorrect method. I didn’t care due to the fact that I wasn’t a risk to Jalen. That’s why we were pals. But the other men saw Jalen as a risk — a minimum of they ought to have. And they didn’t like it at all,” Palet said.

“They would sort of seclude Jalen from their discussions, simply stick to each other, and they would talk crap about him behind his back, like, ‘Who does this person believe he is? Why is he acting by doing this?’ Because they believed freshmen were expected to come in and simply be peaceful, and Jalen wasn’t going to do that. He had a great deal of pals on the group due to the fact that he was a pleasant person, so I do not believe the quarterbacks liked that either, that he was so included with other gamers.”

Some close to Hurts were surprised when the Eagles drafted him in the second round in 2020 for this very reason. Hurts is an alpha male players naturally gravitate toward. He has been known as a good teammate at every stop but is not deferential when it comes to his position. Wentz was trying to reclaim his place in the center of the circle after Nick Foles’ postseason heroics over the previous two seasons, which included a Super Bowl run, and did not respond well to Hurts’ presence. On the practice field, it was rare to see interaction between Hurts and Wentz, who was traded to the Indianapolis Colts this offseason after his relationship with the organization deteriorated.

“Jalen is a hero, do not get me incorrect, however he is not the kind of person where you resemble, ‘Oh, we’re pals,’ if you’re the beginning quarterback. He’s going to take a look at you as a risk and attempt to take your task, which he should, and which he did,” Palet said. “I ensure you he and Carson Wentz do not have an excellent relationship.”

“I understood ultimately he would take control of,” added former Oklahoma receiver Lee Morris, “due to the fact that he’s going to combat in any method possible in an expert way to get that task.”

Hurts racked up over 3,700 yards with 36 total touchdowns as a freshman at Alabama en route to winning SEC Offensive Player of the Year. The Tide went 26-2 during his two seasons as a starter, but he was famously benched in favor of Tua Tagovailoa in the 2018 national championship game against Georgia. Tagovailoa engineered a comeback win for Alabama in the title game and won the starting job the next season. After spending most of his junior year as a backup, Hurts transferred to Oklahoma for the 2019 season, wounded and in search of a fresh start.

“We spoke about it really quickly. … [He] revealed his frustration in himself and was deeply harmed,” Henderson said. “But he instantly collected himself and returned to work. … He blamed nobody for the method things addressed Alabama however himself, for that reason he understood that the only one to repair it or make it much better was himself.”

Hurts threw for 3,851 yards with 32 touchdowns to eight interceptions at Oklahoma and added another 1,298 yards and 20 scores on the ground, leading the Sooners to a 12-2 record and a win over Baylor in the Big 12 championship. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2019 behind eventual No. 1 pick Joe Burrow, and ahead of a host of other notable names, including DE Chase Young, RB Jonathan Taylor, QB Trevor Lawrence, QB Justin Fields and Tagovailoa.

The key moment in the season came after a crushing 48-41 loss to Kansas State in late October. The team was dejected as the Sooners readied to make the plane ride back to Oklahoma City. Hurts used that moment, on the tarmac, to send a message to the group that Morris credits for helping keep the team afloat.

“Everyone was looking directly at him, listening to him, every word he stated. [The message was] this isn’t completion. This isn’t going to be what specifies us,” he said.

R&B, crawfish and football

It’s not easy to unearth many of Hurts’ interests outside of football.

“I got him a bike as soon as at Walmart, and he rode his bike around [Alabama]. I do not understand what the hell he did,” Palet said.

Hurts revealed during his Oklahoma days that he keeps a journal. His teammate at the time, wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, said Hurts sings — or at least “believes he can sing.”

Music is where everybody eventually lands. Hurts has a thing for old-school R&B: the Isley Brothers, James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire. His taste in music is another example to cite for the many who describe Hurts as an “old soul” wise beyond his years.

And Hurts can cook — crawfish to be exact.

“His papa makes crawfish and his papa makes some actually, actually excellent crawfish, and [Jalen] has actually practically taken it over,” McNorton said. “If you asked, he’d most likely inform you he’s the very best.”

But football dominates, all the time. It was that way going back to high school. “All of his pastimes were the weight space or the football field or the movie space,” Henderson said. “I utilized to state, ‘Go house. Do something.'”

Hurts will return to those fields in the offseason sometimes, training while the student body is in class or, more than likely, asleep. Hurts’ workouts start at 5 a.m. every day. Teammates who want to train with their QB have to be on his clock.

Those who have witnessed those player workouts will tell you that Hurts can be very demanding and that he will let the F-bombs fly if a teammate drops a pass or if a play is not crisp.

“If we didn’t link on a path, we’re going to do it once again and once again and once again till we got it right,” said Eagles receiver Greg Ward.

“It’s throughout practice and throughout the offseason when you get a possibility to see the fire and enthusiasm that is actually in him,” Henderson added. “Because the calm behavior makes it look like he’s constantly like this. But no.”

Hurts’ mindset was evident to Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith the first time they met, when Smith was a recruit at Alabama and Hurts was his host.

“It’s much like it is now,” Smith said of their interaction. “Laid-back, talking football. Nothing’s altered.”

The Philadelphia market can be a dizzying, disorienting beast for those who allow themselves to go for the ride. Part of the argument for sticking with Hurts beyond this season, besides the fact that he has racked up over 3,700 total yards and 26 touchdowns in his first full year as the starter and has his team in the playoffs, is that he seems equipped to handle this town — a sentiment Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins shared with Hurts last season when the latter was a rookie.

You need to stay cool when the bodies start flying at you and have an identity to anchor into when the seas get rough.

Hurts certainly seems to know his.

“I’m an inspired coach’s kid from the Eastside of Houston,” he wrote in a Players’ Tribune article when introducing himself to the Oklahoma fan base in 2019, “and I like to play ball.”



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