TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — What a difference 771 miles — the distance between the collegiate campuses in Austin and Tuscaloosa — and two years make

With his almost instant popularity in the Heart of Dixie, its almost easy to forget Jalen Hurts is a red-blooded, card-carrying product of the Lone Star State. Almost easy to forget to remember both the University of Texas and Texas A&M whiffed on the then 6-foot-2, 208 pound dual-threat phenom.

Almost.

“They made a real push,” said Averion Hurts, Channelview High School’s head football coach, to 247Sports in October about his home state trying to keep his son’s talent in state. “Out of respect to [Kevin Sumlin], I’m not going to say ‘no’. I’m a Texas high school football coach. But at the end of the day, the decision is still Jalen’s.”

Jalen Hurts was one of the most prolific dual threat University Interscholastic League (UIL) 6A athletes in the nation in 2015, especially after gaining more than 2,00 total yards and scoring more than 30 total touchdowns. Photo courtesy Channelview High School athletics

As a senior, Jalen passed for 2,384 yards with 26 touchdown passes and rushed for 1,391 yards and 25 touchdowns. The former four-star recruit was named the District 21-6A Overall MVP as a junior and was a second-team all-district selection as a sophomore.

Jalen, surprisingly, was supplanted at each school by Texas stars. First current Longhorn Shane Buchele and then Aggie Kyler Murray. The former is in a two-way position battle and the latter is waiting to step into a cushy starting spot at Oklahoma after Baker Mayfield’s graduation and subsequent drafting.

Either, in hindsight, most likely would love to have an asset like Jalen under center — especially those in College Station. Since his departure to Alabama, Texas A&M has lost both Murray and Kyle Allen and fired Sumlin.

Twenty-four months and ten pounds heavier with Crimson Tide-packed muscle, the former SEC Offensive Player of the Year and  SEC Freshman of the Year, is poised to do something is home state hasn’t done since Mac Brown, Houston Madison and Port Arthur Memorial products Vince Young and Jamaal Charles and the Longhorns did it in 2005. Not only will the 19-year-old sophomore lead college football’s No. 27 offense supported by a No. 1 defense, he will do it as a focal point.

Video courtesy NCAA

No simple handoffs or game management here.

In only two seasons, he has run for more touchdowns (21 in 27 games) than any other Alabama quarterback and his 38 passing touchdowns ranks fifth in historical statistics. He’s completed 61.4 percent of his passes (down from last season’s 62.8) for 2,060 yards (down from last season’s 2,780), but has greatly improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Despite ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith being a “non-believer” in Jalen after Monday’s Sugar Bowl performance.

“I mean this with no disrespect, I’m not a believer in Jalen Hurts,” Smith said in reference to his in-pocket ability. “I believe in him as an athlete, as a leader and his athleticism. But when it comes to purely throwing the football, I don’t see him being effective. [Calvin] Ridley was wide open over the middle [in the end zone]. He had time to take pictures, call his girl. [It was] right over the middle and he missed him. It was only after he scrambled the pocket and found him wide open. There are too many misses on the part of Jalen Hurts. I’ve seen it over and over again.”

And he wasn’t the only one.

The “bullpen” as it were would be state champion Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama’s freshman from Ewa Beach, Hawai’i by way of Saint Louis High School (Honolulu). Though the calls for “Tia Time” louden, Hawai’i’s career leader in passing knows what the stats do — that Jalen rolls the tide.

“We just laugh about it,” the left-handed signal-caller said to SECCountry.com after the win.“I just tell [Jalen], ‘You don’t have to worry about it. You know you’re the man right now, you’re the man for this team.’ I’m here to support him. If the roles were flipped, I’d want the same from him.”

Despite a down year in yards and completion percentage, Jalen has been a sniper in the red zone.

Jalen Hurts will play for in his second national title game in only his second year of college since leaving the friendly confines of Channelview, Texas. Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY Sports

He’s passed for 17 touchdowns and only been intercepted once, throwing two during the 24-6 playoff semifinal win against Clemson. Those total state line, too, may be deceiving mostly because Damien Harris (983 yards, 11 TDs) and Bo Scarborough (573 yards, 8 TDs) have had a different level of production a year removed from reaching the national title game.

Both backs are having down seasons in regards to yardage. Scarborough is 239 yards shy of his 2016 mark and Harris is 57 away but has scored nine more TDs this season.

What a difference a season makes. Fifty-one weeks earlier, Jalen and the Crimson Tide were left reeling from a heartbreaking loss to Clemson in the national title game. On Monday, he will have an opportunity to solidify himself as a rising star in arguably college football’s toughest conference and bring — if only partially — a national title back to Texas.

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Marcus Matthews-Marion is the managing editor of TexasHSFootball, covering prep football throughout the Lone Star State. Follow him on Twitter, @TheMJMatthews, and read more of his content here.

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