The making of a leader: Four games tell story of Alabama QB Jalen Hurts’s growth

This story appears in the December 15, 2016, special College Football Playoff preview issue of Sports Illustrated. To get your copy, click here.


Some Alabama players smiled as they filed into their locker room beneath ATT Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Some laughed. Some pantomimed their personal highlights from the Crimson Tide’s season-opening 52–6 annihilation of USC on Sept. 3. Jalen Hurts did none of those things.

The freshman quarterback had entered in relief of starter Blake Barnett and lost a fumble on his first collegiate snap. But in the offensive series that followed, Hurts had settled down and offered glimpses of what Alabama’s offense could be with a quarterback who combined a pro-style arm with read-option legs and instincts. He had scored two touchdowns on the ground and thrown for two more. He had also thrown an interception, and there was the not-insignificant matter of the fumble—which certainly must have displeased Alabama coach Nick Saban. In the aftermath was Hurts overwhelmed? Exhilarated? He offered no clues as he walked toward the locker room. He looked like Tony Romo probably looked in this hallway after a random October game in his fifth year as the Cowboys’ starter: just another day at the office.

It wasn’t just another day, of course. Hurts had made clear

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