A coach's son: Jalen Hurts, others benefit from family ties
ATLANTA (AP) Jalen Hurts cherished those rides home from high school football practice.
It was a chance for some alone time with the man who was not just his father, but his coach.
His son would listen, soaking up all that knowledge.
''It's just in your blood,'' Jalen said Thursday during the Peach Bowl media day. ''I remember as a kid I always wore a shirt that said, `Born To Play Football.' I was born into this stuff because of my dad. I'm happy it happened that way.''
There is no doubt that being the son of a coach helped Hurts grow up faster than most. Certainly, it's hard to envision him starting at quarterback as a freshman for top-ranked Alabama if not for the lessons he learned at the knee of his father, Averion Hurts, the head coach at Channelview High School near Houston.
Hurts is not alone in this year's College Football Playoff.
Joe Burrow, the heir apparent to J.T. Barrett as Ohio State's quarterback, is the son of Ohio University's defensive coordinator, Jimmy Burrow.
''I never coached Joe, but certainly his being around football and around sports at a very early age, I think that all adds up,'' the elder Burrow said in a telephone interview this week. ''He saw what it took to prepare as a coach and what our players did to prepare.''
Lane Kiffin can certainly relate.
Alabama's offensive coordinator is the son of longtime NFL defensive guru Monte Kiffin, a family edge that undoubtedly helped 41-year-old Lane advance up the coaching ranks faster than his peers.
''Everything is sped up,'' said Kiffin, who already has been a head coach for two major universities and one NFL team, and will take over at Florida Atlantic as soon as the Crimson Tide's playoff run is over. ''If your dad's a coach, and you're around him a lot, you just start earlier than everyone else.''
Lane was a ball boy for his dad's NFL team while still in middle school. By high school, he was sitting in on coaches' meetings. The youngster attended training camp, hung out with players, immersed himself in every aspect of game planning.
''No other kids were doing that,'' Kiffin said. ''Most coaches aren't doing that until they start coaching.''
Hurts isn't ready to go into coaching after leading top-ranked Alabama to a 13-0 record and a spot in Saturday's Peach Bowl semifinal against No. 4 Washington (12-1). But, as the son of a coach, he picked up the sort of toughness and resilience that gave Nick Saban the confidence to start a freshman at the most visible position on the field.
Saban could appreciate what he was getting better than most. His late father was a prominent Pop Warner coach whose presence still seems to loom over every decision his son makes, even after winning five national titles.
''When your dad's a coach, you spend a little bit more time talking about and developing a better understanding of the game itself and things that are important in the game,'' Saban said. ''I know that was significant to me as a young player growing up, and that was probably something that helped Jalen grow.''
Even after Hurts enrolled at Alabama, Kiffin continued to rely on those family bonds.
''His dad has been invaluable to me to call him from time to time,'' the offensive coordinator said. ''I can call and ask about something that happened at practice - how he reacted to it, how his body language was, how did you deal with this, or what did it mean?''
Washington receiver Dante Pettis is also a coach's son, though his situation is a bit different.
His father, Gary Pettis, was a longtime major league outfielder who now serves as third-base coach for the Houston Astros.
While Dante hasn't gotten a lot of inside information about how to beat a cornerback, he has picked plenty of valuable tips just being around his dad.
''I've seen the work ethic,'' Dante said. ''I've seen not just what it takes to get to that level, but what it takes to stay at that level.''
Joe Burrow has yet to get his shot at Ohio State.
But when he does, he'll be ready for it. His father made sure of that.
''I came into college understanding coverages and defensive fronts better than most people,'' Joe Burrow said. ''Our family is all about football. That's all we really talk about.''
When Burrow was in third grade, he remembers analyzing film from pee-wee games with his father.
''We didn't throw the ball a lot in third grade, but he would show me where to hit the hole, how they're blocking it,'' Burrow said Thursday at the Fiesta Bowl, where the second-seeded Buckeyes (11-1) are preparing to face No. 3 Clemson (12-1) in the other semifinal game. ''I realized I had an advantage probably in high school, when I understood coverages more than the other quarterbacks that I was training with.''
For the father, it was always a bit of a balancing act. He wanted to help Joe as much as possible, but knew there was a risk of some push-back as his son got older.
''I will say it's probably been more one-sided with me saying something and not him necessarily seeking out my advice over the years,'' Jimmy Burrow conceded. ''Maybe he's gotten tired of it a little.''
Hurts said his father is going through an adjustment of his own. For the first time in years, he's not coaching either Jalen or his older brother, who just completed his college career at Texas Southern.
But dad still wields enormous influence over his sons.
Jalen is clearly guarded around the media and all those fans who want a piece of him after his brilliant freshman season.
''Keep your circle small,'' Hurts said, relating the best advice he's gotten from his dad. ''The bigger you get, the smaller your circle should be.''
Yep, he's still listening to his father.
Just like he did on all those rides home.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .
For more AP college football coverage: www.collegefootball.ap.org