WACO, Texas — He’s either a selfless teammate who put his body on the line week after week or a loner who abandoned his team.
He’s either wise to have walked away from millions in the NFL to reinvent himself as a player and open the door to a longer career in the league or selfish and foolish for deciding to chase an impossible dream.
“Heard it all,” Jalen Hurd says, shaking his head in resignation, and there’s little doubt that part of him wonders why he agreed to this interview in the first place.
He has kept a low profile by choice, from his last day as anointed savior of the Tennessee program to his now-welcomed obscurity at a Baylor program left for dead—for a couple more months, anyway
Because when football begins in September, when Jalen Hurd 2.0 is reintroduced to college football and the one-time, can’t-miss, 6’4″, 240-pound prototype NFL tailback re-emerges as a sleek and sinewy 220-pound wide receiver, those same weighty expectations he left in the rearview mirror in Knoxville will find him again.
“He’s going to play a long time in the NFL—as a wide receiver,” says Baylor head coach Matt Rhule, who in January turned down the Indianapolis Colts job to stay in the college game. “He will be an elite wide receiver.”
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Rhule makes that statement without a hint of hesitation, a surprise considering how Hurd got here. His journey—from legendary high school recruit, to star tailback on pace to set a boatload of school records, to everything and everyone turning on him—makes this last chance at Baylor all the more meaningful.
He has one more season of college football at a brand-new position, with millions of dollars on the line.
“All he had to do was finish out that last season at Tennessee, and he gets picked in the middle of the first round, and he’s making a lot of money,” an NFL scout told Bleacher Report. “Now there’s a lot of questions.”
When he is told of the scout’s assessment, Hurd runs his hands through his tightly cropped hair and takes a deep breath. Why do you walk away from the certainty of a multimillion-dollar contract, take a nearly two-year sabbatical from the game you have played since you were 6 years old, to change positions and play for a program that won once in 2017?
“I didn’t just do this on a whim. I researched it,” Hurd said. “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.
“Baylor is reinventing itself; I’m reinventing myself. We both have a lot to prove.”
It’s a multimillion-dollar gamble.
After the season opener in 2016, after grinding out another 100-yard game and adding to his 2,000-plus yards in his first two years at Tennessee, Hurd began to seriously consider a career change.
His body ached after an overtime victory over Appalachian State. It was a punishing reminder of his pinballing between the tackles while absorbing the blows that came with those 28 rushing attempts.
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He had been carrying the ball, carrying a team, since he first suited up for the Goodlettsville Trojans as a 6-year-old, a mere 20 minutes from Nashville, deep in the heart of Big Orange country. If anyone was going to be a Vol, if anyone would have a street named after them next to Peyton Manning Pass and Tee Martin Drive, it was Hurd.
Until it wasn’t.
“The way I took impact that game and the way I felt after was completely different than any other time,” Hurd said. “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.”
Hurd pauses h