Mr. Football USA Countdown – No. 5

Jalen Hurd shined at the Columbus NFTC

Jalen Hurd shined at the Columbus NFTC.

The No. 5 player in our preseason countdown of the leading contenders to be Mr. Football USA at the conclusion of the 2013 season is Jalen Hurd from Beech High of Hendersonville, Tenn.

Note: Since the staff of Student Sports has seen pretty much every top football player in the nation up close and personal during four months of running elite events on the Nike tour, we’re going to fire up our preseason coverage with a 10-day countdown of leading candidates who could be the next Mr. Football USA. Factors evaluated for the Mr. Football USA honor include athletic ability as observed by Student Sports’ player personnel department, athletic accomplishments so far on the high school level, college recruiting, team success and a player’s honors on the local and state level.

Jalen Hurd’s buzz first began in Tennessee in eighth grade. The buzz became chatter in 2011, when he ran for 1,606 yards and 23 touchdowns as a sophomore. College coaches were all intrigued with the tall, athletic running back and saw him as a fit at receiver, h-back, linebacker and elsewhere at the next level.

Hurd ran for 3,357 yds. as a Junior

Hurd ran for 3,357 yds. as a junior.

The scholarship offers began in March after that sophomore season – first Vanderbilt, then Mississippi State, Cincinnati, then Alabama, and the dam broke shortly thereafter.

By the time Hurd’s junior season rolled around last fall, the buzz had become a roar. He had become a 6-foot-3, 222-pound physical freak with 4.37 speed in the 40. But the hype did not go to the blue-collar Hurd’s head. He set a goal of 2,500 rushing yards going into his junior season and then obliterated that goal.

In week two, he ran for 451 yards, the third-best single game total in Tennessee state history, in a 55-41 win over defending state champion Henry County. There were five other games in the regular season over 200 yards and then Hurd saved his best for last, rumbling for 396 yards and four touchdowns in a semifinal win over Jackson North Side. In the state championship game, he set records with 394 yards and seven touchdowns on 34 carries in the Bucs’ 56-35 triumph over Columbia Central.

All told last fall, Hurd set a state record as a junior with 3,357 rushing yards and his 43 rushing touchdowns were third all-time. He earned Mr. Tennessee honors, all-state and Junior All-American honors and this spring Hurd backed up his stats with a dominant showing against top competition at the Ohio State NFTC, earning running back position MVP honors there and an invite to The Opening.

And those college coaches? No one is talking about any position other than running back now, and Hurd is already being talked about as the starter at Tennessee on day one when he enrolls in 2014.

Recruiting Recap
No. 19 in the Rivals 100, No. 22 in the 24/7 Sports 247, No. 40 in the ESPN 300, No. 57 in the Scout 300. Committed in mid-March to stay home and play for Tennessee over a multitude of suitors.

How Hurd Can Win Mr. Football USA
If he stays healthy and puts up more big numbers, simply said he will be impossible to ignore. Another state title run for Beech also would equal a 15-game schedule. Since Hurd averaged a whopping 257 yards in the 13 games he was healthy for last year, breaking his state record of 3,357 yards is reachable. In fact, he could go past 4,000 yards and become the all-time leading rusher in Tennessee football. And if he does, a Mr. Football USA honor could follow.

Hurd is an absolute giant in the backfield.

Hurd is a giant in the backfield.

He Reminds Us Of….
The easy and obvious answer is Heisman Trophy winner and former Tennessee Titan standout Eddie George. Like George, Hurd is a head taller than most other running backs at 6-foot-3, and possesses breakaway speed along with the power to run downhill at 222 pounds and make yards after contact. Hurd is also a gifted pass-catcher, as evidenced by his 31 receptions as a sophomore.

Big Games on the Schedule
The biggest game for Hurd’s chances might be the first, as Beech’s opener at Station Camp will be televised on ESPN2 on Aug. 25 and provide him with a platform to showcase his unique skillset. Game 2 is against Henry County and the crosstown rivalry game with Hendersonville High on Oct. 25 is always tough.

Other Tennessee Player of the Year contenders
Tennessee is home to one of the most dynamic linemen in the country in Brentwood Academy’s Derek Barnett.  The two-way player was selected as Mr. Tennessee after a big season on both sides of the ball as a defensive end and tight-end.    Barnett had 13.5 TFL and 6 sacks to go along with 4 touchdowns.  If Brentwood Academy is to win a championship, it will be on the back of The Opening invite Barnett.

Webb School of Knoxville’s Todd Kelly Jr. is coming off a dominating season as both a defensive back and running back.  The 6-0, 190 lb. dynamo had 3 INT’s, 76 tackles and returned 3 kickoffs/punts for a touchdown.  As a running back, Kelly Jr. had 31 total touchdowns and averaged 12 yards per carry.  Despite Webb’s small-school status, if Kelly Jr. can build on his big season as a junior, he’ll be in the conversation.

Rest of the Countdown

No. 10 – Lorenzo Carter

No. 9 – Will Grier

No. 8 – Jabrill Peppers

No. 7 – Sean White

No. 6 – Budda Baker

Updated: August 7, 2013

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