NORMAN — Jalen Hurts is Oklahoma’s starting quarterback.
Exhibit A is his body of work at the University of Alabama, his 26-2 record as a starter, his playing in three national championship games, his leading the Crimson Tide to two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the 2018 SEC title game.
Exhibit B, however, was on display Wednesday, when he delivered one compelling answer after another during a 30-minute press conference, which he began with a three-minute opening statement.
If it walks like a starting quarterback, and talks like a starting quarterback …
“I think this team has a vision,” Hurts said. “It’s very early, but we have a vision of what we want to do, of what we want to be as a team, things we want to achieve.”
All due respect to head coach Lincoln Riley, whose job it is to prepare every quarterback to play a vital role — whether starter, backup, emergency plan or scout-teamer — but there’s no competition.
The good news for OU’s other QBs — the two Tanners, Mordecai and Schafer, and incoming freshman Spencer Rattler — is that Hurts comes to OU as a graduate transfer and is here for only one year.
The job will be open, and there will be a strong competition.
Hurts not only has the big-game experience that Riley needs and Sooner Nation demands. He also has the poise, the demeanor and the makeup to step in right away, learn enough of the playbook to be successful and lead the Sooners to a fifth straight Big 12 Conference championship and, just maybe, a return to the College Football Playoff.
Hurts has something inherent that Mordecai, Schafer and Rattler simply haven’t earned yet: instant credibility as an elite college football winner. He arrived on the OU campus, stepped into the weight room during winter workouts and immediately became one of the leaders on the team.
“When I look back on this year, I’d rather say I said too much than said too little,” Hurts said. “I’d rather lead too much. Coach Riley wants me to be aggressive with that.”
Hurts described his leadership style and how important it is for someone in his place to exhibit strong alpha characteristics.
“As a quarterback, a coach’s kid, I definitely know that a team — if you have the right leader, if you have the right guy doing what he’s supposed to do, taking care of his business — people let you lead,” Hurts said. “It’s not mandatory of them to do that. But they’ll follow you.
“I try to go about my business, I try to do all the right things I’m supposed to do. I’m far from perfect, but I try to handle my business and stay on top of what I need to do and hold myself accountable to do those things as a leader and hold everybody else to that same standard.”
In his three years at Alabama, Hurts became the first true freshman quarterback ever to start for Nick Saban. He also became the Southeastern Conference newcomer of the year. He also became the first player to lead his team to the national championship game and get benched at halftime. Last season, he was Tua Tagovailoa’s backup, but then came off the bench late to rally the Tide against Georgia.
Enduring those intense highs and lows was challenging, but everything Hurts went through only reinforced who he thinks he is.
“I think I’m wiser, I’m better, stronger for everything that took course last year and over the last three years,” Hurts said. “I definitely know that obviously I didn’t get the snaps (in 2018). I had limited time. But I’m at a new place now, new opportunity. I think it’s a different team on the same mission.”
Hurts frequently used the word “unique” to describe his situation. One of the more unique elements of his journey was having to learn under four quarterback coaches and four offensive coordinators in three seasons in Tuscaloosa.
Certainly, that grew him as a football player and as a man. But it also probably hindered his development as a quarterback, if not as a thrower.
“You can say that,” Hurts said, “but you’ve got to turn those negatives into positives. Let’s not think about it negatively. Turn it into a positive and then say … ‘Hey, I’ve had success with every coordinator I’ve had or coach I’ve had.’ I have multiple perspectives of looking at the game because I’ve had so many coaches. Use it to help me instead of hang my head down on it. Use it to help me. I now see it in a positive light.”
Put yourself in Hurts’ cleats for a moment. He left one rabid fanbase for another. He left one college football powerhouse for another. He left one coach considered the greatest of all time for another who’s considered the best young up-and-comer in the game.
And now, he’s being asked to replace one Heisman Trophy winner, who replaced another. It’s probably not likely but certainly possible that during his brief stay in Norman, Hurts could attend the dedication of heroic-sized statues erected to Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, commemorating their nonpareil excellence while he’s still trying to fill their shoes.
For his part, Hurts sounds unfazed.
“You can’t look back in history and say that’s happened. Ever,” Hurts said. “All of it. The whole scenario. The whole shebang. You probably won’t be able to say it’ll happen again. So, I think this whole situation is unique. Everything about it is unique. For me, I know it’s happening to a unique person.
“I’m not your average Joe. Kind of built for these types of situations. There’s never been really anything that’s been in my way that I couldn’t overcome or see through.
“I’m here. I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team in whatever way to achieve the things we want to achieve as a team.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.