Consult Jalen Hurd’s recruiting profile on ESPN.com and you’ll find that he could’ve been a running back, wide receiver, tight end, linebacker or safety, according to their evaluation.
In fact, he might project better in the secondary, according to the report.
“Has the size, range and ball skills that really project high as a back-end defender,” an unnamed ESPN.com analyst wrote.
That’s not what Butch Jones saw as the Vols evaluated the 6-3, 227-pound, five-star prospect. They saw a running back – a big, physical, athletic one who could make an impact in the SEC.
“That’s outside chatter,” Jones said of anybody who thought Hurd was too big to be a running back. “We said it in the recruiting process – he’s a running back. We trust what we see on film, how we evaluate it. He didn’t have to prove any of that to us.”
Hurd, who spoke to the media for the first time on Saturday afternoon, also has a message to anybody who thinks he might be too big for the position:
“Come watch me play.”
Fans and critics alike will get that opportunity soon. Hurd is positioning himself as somewhat of a 1B back for Tennessee, expected to take a heavy load of carries right behind projected starter Marlin Lane.
In many ways, Hurd is the face of what fans hope is a bright future at Tennessee. He’s bigger, stronger and faster than what UT has been accustomed to in the backfield for the last several years. He’s a blue-chip recruit, a freak of an athlete and the type of player that has been more reserved for the Alabamas of the world in recent college football history.
But Hurd took a chance on Tennessee. Vic Wharton officially started the 2014 recruiting class, but it was Hurd who really got it rolling. He picked UT before it was normal for stud recruits to take a chance on Butch Jones and a rebuilding program.
That brings expectations – big ones. He was an instant celebrity on campus when he arrived in the winter. He signs autographs, gets his picture taken and regularly gets stopped around town. That comes with the territory. It isn’t something that bothers him.
“You know, I just love Tennessee,” he said when asked if the attention ever get to him. “I love the fans, I grew up here and I just want to give everybody what they expect me to do.”
“That comes from he’s been used to having those expectations put on him since tenth or ninth grade,” Jones added. “So he’s used to those expectations, but it’s how you manage those expectations, it’s how they drive you every day and it’s not getting caught up in the clutter and the distractions.”
Like with all of the talented newcomers, it’s also a balance for the coaching staff when it comes to trying to utilize their talents and manage expectations. The Vols need help at virtually every position. This incoming class was one of the most talented in the nation.
It’s natural to expect some of them to start filling roles almost immediately.
“We have to be careful that we don’t crown these individuals,” Jones said. “They’re still 17 to 18 year-old kids working to be young adults. They’ve never played one snap in a college football game right now. We have to be careful that as coaches we don’t put a lot on their table too early.”
If anybody is ready to have his table loaded up early, it might be Hurd. Jones has pushed him some already.
“We tried very early in winter strength and conditioning to try to break him mentally and he’s one of those individuals – he comes every day and he’s the same person every day … Jalen Hurd has been consistent every day.”