When Jalen Hurd announced he was leaving Tennessee’s football program in late October of 2016, the immediate reaction from most Vol fans was to vilify him. Some called him a locker room “cancer” to the team, while others called him a “quitter” and other less savory things. Hurd’s departure couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Vols in 2016, and his decision to leave was a lightning rod topic among Vol fans.
It’s been nearly two years since Hurd elected to leave the Vols and transfer to Baylor. He’s stayed under the radar during that time and has only rarely talked to reporters. And when he has spoken to the media, he hasn’t elaborated much on the situation at Tennessee.
That all changed this week.
Hurd sat down with Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report to discuss his reasons for leaving Tennessee, why he chose Baylor, why he decided to switch positions from running back to wide receiver, and why he elected to sit out a year and go play at Baylor when he had millions of dollars waiting for him in the NFL if he had just finished his junior year with the Vols.
As you might imagine, there was a lot to cover in the interview. Hayes goes over Hurd’s decision to move on from running back to wide receiver and why he felt he couldn’t do that at Tennessee. And Hurd was candid in his responses.
“I didn’t just do this on a whim. I researched it,” Hurd told Hayes. “Running backs last 3.5 years in the NFL. Wide receivers can last 10 or more years. Receivers are more valued than running backs in the NFL, and I can play this game a lot longer and can be more valuable as a receiver. It’s not just a position and career change, it’s a life change.”
Hurd said he first thought about making that position change at the beginning of the 2016 season. The Vols had to fight and claw their way to victory over Appalachian State to start the 2016 campaign, and Hurd said his body just didn’t feel right after that game.
“The way I took impact that game and the way I felt after was completely different than any other time,” Hurd stated. “I take care of my body. I know what’s going on. After two years of pounding … I could tell this was taking a toll on my body. When you’re 20 years old, that’s not a good thing to say.”
In that game, Hurd carried the ball 28 times, which was the second-most carries he had ever had in a game and ended up being his season-high in 2016. And that was after he had already carried the ball 467 times and caught 57 passes in his first two years at Tennessee. He would finish his UT career having carried or caught the ball over 600 times in 33 games.
Hurd said he asked Tennessee’s coaching staff at the time if he could be moved to the perimeter more and be used as a pass catcher more often to save some of the wear and tear on his body. The coaches declined, however, stating that he was “too important to the run game.” This was despite Tennessee having Alvin Kamara backing up Hurd and a more than capable third string back in sophomore John Kelly as well.
Despite the staff not granting his request, Hurd stuck with it and powered through the next few games. That is, until he suffered a concussion against Georgia. That’s when all the controversy and tension truly began.
Hurd was taken out of the Georgia game in the second half and sat out of the Texas A&M game with an undisclosed injury at the time. It turned out later that he was held out because of a concussion. He started the South Carolina game but pulled himself out of that game. He then announced his transfer shortly after the conclusion of that game, a game that Tennessee lost and ultimately cost them a chance of winning the SEC East.
Tennessee would rely on Kamara after Hurd departed, and Kamara also spoke with Hayes about the situation.
“Personally between me and him, I felt there was some animosity when I got there,” Kamara stated. “I was fresh out of Alabama, fresh out of [Hutchinson Community College]. I had a whole different outlook, like where I go, I’m gonna be successful, period—no matter what the circumstance is.”
Kamara wasn’t used much to start the 2016 season, but he had a breakout game against Texas A&M in Hurd’s absence and set a school record for most all-purpose yards in a game. Kamara, who just won the NFL Rookie of the Year award with the New Orleans Saints last season, said he sensed that Hurd felt his role on the team was “becoming smaller and smaller” as Kamara gained attention.
A Tennessee assistant took umbrage with that remark, however.
“I love Alvin to death. He’s a great player. He deserves everything he gets,” a Vol assistant told Bleacher Report. “Alvin likes to talk; that feeling of disrespect fuels him. To say Jalen was anything but a team guy busting his ass just isn’t truthful.”
Another Vol assistant backed up that claim about Hurd, saying that the former five-star running back was nothing but a competitor and a great teammate while at Tennessee. The assistant also believes that Hurd was used as a scapegoat for the negativity around the football program at the time.
“There’s a sign in the locker room that we all touched before heading to the field that says, ‘I will give my all for Tennessee,'” a former Tennessee assistant said to Bleacher Report. “If any guy gave his all for that program, it was [Hurd]. He played hurt. He played hard. He did everything he was asked. We started 5-0, then lost three straight, and everyone wanted a fall guy. Guess who that guy was?”
Hurd tries not to concern himself with what happened at Tennessee now, however. He’s focusing on learning how to be a better receiver and get the most out of his second chance.
“Baylor is reinventing itself; I’m reinventing myself,” Hurd said. “We both have a lot to prove.”
Hurd’s new head coach at Baylor certainly has high expectations for him. He believes Hurd has found his true calling at wide receiver and will excel there.
“He’s going to play a long time in the NFL—as a wide receiver,” Baylor head coach Matt Rhule said. “He will be an elite wide receiver.”
The interview with Bleacher Report is worth reading in its entirety. Hurd and people connected with Baylor talk about his transition to receiver, how impressive he’s been physically and mentally, and what the future holds for him. You can read the whole interview here.