MOBILE, Ala. -- Jalen Hurts spoke to many NFL teams, media members and fans in recent days as part of Senior Bowl festivities, but few knew all he has been going through over the past couple weeks.
Hurts' maternal grandfather, Otis Dewalt, died on Jan. 13 at age 92. Dewalt's funeral was on Wednesday -- the second day of practice at the Senior Bowl -- but Hurts decided to stay and participate.
"He's a team player," Hurts' mother, Pamela, told me by phone Friday. "Even though that was family, he's worked all his life to get here and this is a critical time. He's very, very family-oriented."
Pamela Hurts said her father had battled dementia in recent years and his health had declined. Jalen Hurts -- who was born and raised in the Houston area -- hadn't seen his grandfather as often in recent years while attending and playing at the University of Alabama and University of Oklahoma, but would connect often via FaceTime to check up on him and visited whenever possible. Pamela Hurts isn't sure how much her father remembered, but she knows he was very proud of his grandson.
Hurts' agent, Nicole Lynn, described the two as very close.
"Jalen had an incredibly difficult decision to make after finding out his grandpa's funeral would be during the Wednesday practice of the Senior Bowl," Lynn told me in a statement. "With a heavy heart, Jalen ultimately felt his grandpa would want him to keep his commitment and play in the game -- so Jalen decided to play. I would be lying if I said this week has not been extremely difficult for Jalen considering the circumstance, but I admire his strength through it all."
Teammates voted Hurts the South Team Offensive Practice Player of the Week among the quarterbacks, which also includes Oregon's Justin Herbert and Colorado's Steven Montez. He has been wearing a special helmet representing both Oklahoma and Alabama that was auctioned off Thursday, raising $5,500 for a women's and children's hospital and an organization that gives VIP sports experiences to seriously ill children.
Pamela Hurts said "it's hard for me to put into words" how proud she is of her son, citing Jalen Hurts' maturity and compassion.
"I'm in awe of the lives that he impacts, but just his character alone," she said. "It almost doesn't feel real to me. Even today, all these people in line to see him with their Alabama gear on."
Many family members remain in Houston with his grandmother, but his parents will be in the stands Saturday. Hurts is expected to be the second quarterback in the game for the South team -- which is coached by the Cincinnati Bengals staff -- following the highly touted Herbert.
"He's been surprising," Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said of Hurts. "I've enjoyed working with him, because he has had some time with those guys in Alabama, so he had some familiarity with some pro concepts. ... He's got a bunch of athletic ability. I think it's going to be fun to watch him play in the game on top of it -- see him make some plays and create. He can throw the ball really well. He's been fun. I'm glad we have him."