PHILADELPHIA - When it comes to football, Alabama ties can run deep.
The preeminent college football program in America has sent more than its share of stars to the NFL during the Nick Saban era and it's a weekly occurrence in every NFL city for Crimson Tide alumni to catch up after knocking helmets between the lines on game days.
Even when the rivalry is as intense as Philadelphia and New York you might find animosity between the fan bases, but the players generally keep it professional and those who share the Tuscaloosa background take the bond even more seriously.
When it comes to talented second-year Giants safety Xavier McKinney and the guy he will be trying to stop with the Eagles' offense this season, quarterback Jalen Hurts, the respect runs deep.
"That dude there, he helped me out so much," McKinney said on CBS Sports' "All Things Covered" podcast with Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden. "And I don't even think he — like, I never really told him or nothing like that — but that dude helped me out so much as far as a mental standpoint, just because he showed me so much in what a leader should be."
The one constant with Hurts had been his natural leadership skills and players seemed to gravitate to the South Texas native.
"He was one of those dudes where, even in the offseasons when we were conditioning, he always was the first to do everything, and it was crazy to watch it happen," said McKinney, who played just last six regular-season games as a rookie after breaking his left foot prior to the season's start. "I learned from him and when he left... I wanted to be the same way."
Hurts, of course, finished his career in college as a graduate transfer at Oklahoma where he had a brilliant season under Lincoln Riley as the runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting. That, however, only came after losing the starting job with the Crimson Tide to Tua Tagovailoa.
Hurts ended up going No. 53 overall to the Eagles in the 2020 draft, 17 slots after the Giants took McKinney.
During his time with Alabama, McKinney got to see Tagovailoa, the No. 5 overall selection in the 2020 draft, Mac Jones, the 15th overall pick back in April, and Hurts.
Asked which was the best McKinney hedged but didn't shy away from thinking Hurts was in the same category as the more pedigreed options coming out of Alabama.
"That dude, he's the definition of a real, true competitor," McKinney said of Hurts. "Just how he played, how he carried himself. He never was too high, he never was too low, he never saw a time where [in] them games where he got pulled or anything that happened, he didn't have no type of facial [impression expressing disappointment].
"He was just even-keeled and he'd go in the game and still play like he was playing the whole damn game So that dude's a true competitor."
Usually, with young QBs in the NFL, you worry about the intangibles.
Hurts is the rare case when you know he's got all the extras but maybe have a few concerns over whether there's a top-tier NFL skill set in play.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.