Lessons in Humility From a 19 Year-Old

In the story of King Saul’s leadership of Israel, there is a pivotal moment recorded in 1 Samuel 18. Shortly after the young shepherd David had killed the Philistine giant, Goliath, a ticker-tape parade ensues with a crowd of dancing ladies singing an original composition:

“Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.”

It was a defining moment for what would be an antagonistic relationship between David and King Saul. Saul’s jealousy would begin to boil and he would spend the better part of the rest of his life trying to solve this problem he saw in David’s mere existence.

This story came to my mind the morning after the recently played NCAA National Championship game between the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia. But instead of two ancient Jewish leaders at the centre of the story, are two teenage boys who play quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

For two weeks leading up to the game, reporters and news outlets repeatedly returned to the story of Jalen Hurts’ phone screensaver. Hurts is the second year quarterback for the Alabama team.

After having lost the championship game to Clemson a year earlier, Hurts had saved an image of Clemson players hoisting the championship trophy. He set that photo as his phone’s screensaver as a year-long motivator to get back to the big game and win it.

After a year of working and waiting to get back to the big game, Jalen Hurts had led his team to the big finale and a chance to claim the victory that had gotten away from them a year before. But things did not go as planned.

The Alabama offense sputtered in the first half. Hurts completed only 3 of 8 passes. The Georgia Bulldogs led the game 13-0 at halftime.

When the second half began, Jalen Hurts was no longer in the game. Coach Nick Saban made the daring decision to replace their star quarterback with a freshman who had participated in only a handful of plays during the regular season.

I’m sure the television commentators were scrambling to figure out how to pronounce the name of this new quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. But once they got the pronunciation down, they would say it over and over and over again as this young man provided a much needed spark for the Alabama offense and ultimately led the team to an overtime win for the championship. Tagovailoa was named the games Most Valuable Player.

As I watched this improbable chain of events play out, I could not help but hurt for Jalen Hurts. I was thinking of his parents too. I’ve been there, as a parent, watching your son get benched for ineffective play and wondering how your boy is going to handle the hurdle and the humiliation of it.

But throughout the second half of the game, the producer kept cutting to shots of Hurts on the sideline. And unlike what you might have expected, he was not sulking. No towel over the head. No thousand yard stare, disconnected from the game. Jalen Hurts was cheering on his replacement. Jalen Hurts was the first player to congratulate Tagovailoa after he threw a touchdown pass.

Jalen Hurts, a 19 year-old college sophomore, raised the bar for humility, teamwork and sportsmanship. Click To Tweet

I once heard Pastor Chris Brown say that King Saul could have done better by grabbing young David by the shoulder, pulling him close and saying, “Look at us! We’re the slayers of eleven thousands!”

But that is not how the story of Saul and David played out. Jealousy, insecurity and selfishness rooted in Saul’s heart and wrecked him.

It is difficult to predict how the story between Hurts and Tagovailoa will play out over the next year. No doubt, there will be a quarterback controversy in Tuscaloosa next fall.

The moment that will stand out to me above everything else is when Jalen Hurts was interviewed after the game and asked, “What does it mean to you to be a national champion?”

His response, “Unbelievable. I have dreamed about this.”

I doubt that his visualization of this game played out with him standing on the sideline watching another teammate lead the charge.

But I believe this young man’s humility and sportsmanship and commitment to the team will make a great way for his future – on the field and off the field.

“Jalen has slain his thousands,
and Tua his ten thousands.
Together, they are National Champions!”

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Read more about the game at Larry Brown Sports.