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Alabama's Jalen Hurts Quietly Shows Young Athletes How to Handle Adversity

By Sean Jensen, 01/10/18, 12:45PM CST

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Benched Crimson Tide quarterback was the epitome of class during, after national title game


Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts handled adversity like a pro after being benched in Monday night's national title game.

Amid the chaos at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Monday night, moments after Alabama’s stunning 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia for the national college football title, something special happened.

School was in session.

And the teacher was a student.

He wasn’t the the heroic quarterback, the true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who delivered three second-half touchdowns, including the 41-yard game winner.

He was the longterm starter Jalen Hurts, who entered the game with a 26-2 record but was benched after completing just 3-of-8 passes for 21 yards in the first half Monday.

Legendary Alabama coach Nick Saban replaced Hurts at the start of the third quarter with Tagovailoa, whose most meaningful statistics came in three victories during which Alabama outscored opponents 160-7.

As a father, I am constantly looking for examples, illustrations and quotes to reinforce traits my wife and I want to instill in our children.

“Adversity does not build character,” the novelist James Lane Allen famously said, “it reveals it.”

A popular quote, yet one that’s hard to communicate … that is until Hurts taught a masters’ class on it.

ESPN captured the emotionally-charged scene after the game: relieved and overjoyed Crimson Tide players hugging anyone in sight, security officials scrambling and trying to maintain some sense of order, and connected, credentialed and frenzied fans taking selfies and basking in the glow of another championship.

But the camera cut to ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi, who was with Hurts. Initially, Hurts was hard to read.

“Jalen, you’ve been shaking your head, and you’ve had that smile on your face,” said Rinaldi, who at that moment has no idea what was going through the young man’s mind. “Your reaction when you found out Tua was going to start the second half — honestly?”

Hurts, though, was the epitome of class.

“He was gonna step in and do his thing," Hurts said. “We have a lot of guys in the QB room that play really well, and he stepped in and did his thing. Did his thing for the team.”

Rinaldi then asked Hurts what the quarterback told Tagovailoa.

" 'Play your game. Ball,' " Hurts said. "He's destined for stuff like this. He's built for stuff like this. He has the 'It' factor. I'm so happy for him and for this team.”

Hurts said it was “unbelievable.”

“I dreamed about this,” he said.

But, surely, not quite like this.

Yet nothing will display the legend of Hurts more than the following comments, which came later.

"As a team player, you have to do what's best for the team," Hurts said. "It was important for me to be true to myself and be the team leader I have always been. Don't change because of a little adversity.”

Was it all an act?

If so, a day after the Golden Globes, Hurts deserves an acting award.

Because in the second half the ESPN cameras sometimes caught glimpses of Hurts, and he wasn’t pouty, and he wasn’t angry.

He was the first person off the sideline to congratulate Tagovailoa after tossing a touchdown that gave the Crimson Tide hope in the third quarter. He was in the huddle with Tagovailoa and offensive coaches, offering encouragement and input.

Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.

Hurts is 19 now. But there are a few certainties in the days, years and decades to come: He will still be a national champion, and he will be a timeless teacher of character.

About Sean Jensen

Sean Jensen was born in South Korea, but he was raised in California, Massachusetts and Virginia, mostly on or near military bases. Given his unique background, he's always been drawn to storytelling, a skill he developed at Northwestern University and crafted for the last 16 years, almost exclusively covering the NFL. Sean lives in a Minneapolis suburb with his wife, two children and dog. Read more

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