TUSCALOOSA — Time practically stood still when Jalen Hurts made his way across the Coleman Coliseum stage Saturday afternoon.
The string of names being read aloud halted as a thunderous ovation filled the packed arena, where hundreds of friends, family and Alabama fans took to their feet to cheer as the Crimson Tide’s beloved backup quarterback received his bachelor’s degree in public relations during the University of Alabama’s winter commencement ceremony Saturday.
Hurts even took a moment to acknowledge the celebratory applause, stopping midway through his walk across the stage to kiss two fingers and wave back at his many fans in attendance.
Among those was his mother, Pamela, who was joined by more than 20 members of Hurts’ extended family that traveled the 600-plus miles from their home in Houston to be on hand to celebrate a moment three years in the making.
Along with one of her son’s game-worn white Crimson Tide jerseys, Pamela proudly held a homemade sign that read: “He BELIEVED he could so he DID. Congratulations Jalen! No. 2 on the field, No. 1 in our hearts. Roll Tide.”
“If You Only Knew What It Took. Beyond Blessed! #AllGlory2God #BlackExperience,” Hurts tweeted shortly after meeting with his family and before returning to the Alabama practice fields for the team’s second bowl practice Saturday afternoon.
The Hurts family declined to comment publicly when reached by the Advertiser after the ceremony, only expressing happiness with their son’s big day.
For Hurts, who famously went 26-2 in 28 games as Alabama’s starting quarterback over his first two seasons before being replaced as the starter by talented sophomore Tua Tagovailoa during the preseason, Saturday’s graduation could be a seminal moment in his already successful college career
Hurts, who has one year of playing time remaining after appearing in 11 games this season, is now eligible to transfer wherever he wants as a graduate transfer, including within the SEC after the conference passed a new amendment in June.
Despite being relegated to a backup role, Hurts has achieved cult-hero status among Alabama fans after guiding the top-ranked Crimson Tide (13-0, 8-0 SEC) to back-to-back fourth-quarter touchdown drives in a 35-28 comeback victory over Georgia (11-2, 7-1) in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 1.
Now, with Tagovailoa still nursing a high ankle sprain suffered in that SEC title game that required a minor corrective procedure, Hurts returned to practice Saturday
Hurts was among 15 Alabama football players to graduate Saturday, including three fellow members of the Crimson Tide’s 2016 signing class along with junior left tackle Jonah Williams and redshirt sophomore tight end Miller Forristall.
“Yeah, we’re excited about it. We took a picture together today because we’re like, it feels like yesterday that we came in and had zero credits, zero games started, zero any of that,” Williams said Friday. It’s cool to go through all that with your friends and your brothers. To all have success in the end is priceless.”
Joining that trio in graduating Saturday were nine seniors in defensive end Isaiah Buggs, offensive guards Joshua Casher and Lester Cotton, running back Damien Harris, receiver Derek Kief, outside linebacker Christian Miller, defensive back Donavan Mosley, snapper Ryan Parris and center Ross Pierschbacher. Other football graduates included redshirt junior offensive lineman Elliot Baker, redshirt junior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings and former Tide defensive end Jamar King, who was a senior on last season’s national championship-winning squad. Casher, Kief, Miller and Pierschbacher each received their master’s degrees Saturday.
“It’s exciting. It was one of my big goals coming here, to start, be an All-American and graduate in three years,” Williams said. “It was kind of a plan that was set in motion in high school. … I think that it’s a testament to obviously my work, but everything the academic staff does (here). … So that’s a big plus. Being able to take 15 hours every semester. Marketing and business, that’s kind of where I want to be. I’m excited about it.”
And while each Crimson Tide football player received plenty of adoration when they took the stage Saturday, none were with as much zeal and appreciation as Hurts’ moment in the sun.
The junior quarterback and his Alabama teammates even received a special nod in the ceremony’s opening invocation when Dr. Gorman Houston, the coordinator of the university’s interfaith ministries, closed his prayer by acknowledging what they accomplished two weeks prior.
“We would be remiss if we didn’t offer a word of profound thanks for that tremendous come-from-behind victory over Georgia,” Houston said with a big smile. “Let all of God’s people say ‘Roll Tide’ and amen.”