ATLANTA -- Jalen Hurts is starting to truly understand how his life has changed. He is, after all, Alabama's celebrity 18-year-old quarterback with the recognizable dreads who's accomplishing things that 18-year-olds aren't supposed to achieve, even at Alabama.
"I couldn't go to Andretti's the other day because that got kind of hectic," Hurts said, referencing a Peach Bowl trip for Alabama and Washington players to an arcade with Go Karts. "Tuscaloosa is probably five times worse. It's my lifestyle now. I'm kind of getting used to it. It is what it is. I'm trying to embrace it."
There is virtually no other experience in college football like playing quarterback at Alabama. The intensity associated with playing that position at that university in that state is inherently filled with pressure.
Past Alabama quarterbacks talk about how they could never escape football. It's all anybody wants to talk about -- classmates, friends, family -- so it can be hard to have a certain level of perspective. Or as Alabama's 2009 national championship quarterback Greg McElroy put it: "There's probably more people on the campus who can tell you the name of the quarterback and what he looks like than the governor."
Now imagine the Alabama quarterback is 18 with flowing dreadlocks and redefining what a freshman can accomplish in college football.
Hurts is far from a finished product, especially as a passer. But he's two touchdowns away from setting the Alabama single-season touchdown responsibility record. He became the first Crimson Tide quarterback to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 yard in the same game. He's the school's single-season quarterback rushing leader.
Already, Hurts is the first true freshman quarterback to win the SEC in its 83-year history. He's two wins away from becoming the first true freshman quarterback to win the national championship since Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway in 1985.
So yeah, that's why Hurts walks around in Tuscaloosa wearing a hoodie.
"Some people walk up to me and say, 'You can't hide,'" Hurts said. "But I know the hoodie works sometimes, so I continue to pull it off as much as I can."
Hurts recalled a conversation he had with his dad after emerging as a possible star during Alabama's spring game. Hurts told his dad his life had changed. His dad's response: Just wait until you step on the field.
"He was right," Hurts said.
After Alabama's season opening win against USC, Hurts said a student waited for him after class and told him, "You the man," as soon as he walked out the door. "Thank you, Roll Tide," Hurts told him. Hurts said he hasn't developed friends at Alabama outside of the football team.
Even this week, while a couple hours away from Tuscaloosa, Hurts found himself inundated with photo and autograph requests from fans at Andretti's.
"Me personally, I'm not the type of guy that can just say no -- no pictures, no autographs -- because that's disrespectful," Hurts said. "You have to treat the fans the best way you can. We have a security guard and I walk around with him when I know stuff is going to go down. He said, 'Look, Jalen, I don't have a problem at all saying no.' So I'm like, 'It's better coming from you than me.'"
Per Nick Saban's policy, freshmen can't talk to the media unless they're required to in championship game settings, such as this week in Atlanta. Hurts didn't conduct his first media interview until after the SEC Championship Game. As reporters became interested in speaking with Hurts' dad during the season, father and son made an agreement that if the son couldn't talk, neither would the father.
"We had [reporters] getting at my brother, my mom ... cheerleaders at my high school that I really never disassociated with, some coaches I talked to," Hurts said. "My high school slot receiver got hit up one time. He's like, 'Well, should I do it?' I'm like, 'You'll be all right.'"
Don't misunderstand Hurts. He rolled his eyes when asked if he would rather play quarterback at a lower-profile college. When asked if any of this attention is too much too soon, Hurts quickly replied, "Oh no. Everything happens for a reason in my eyes, so I'm just taking it as it comes."
At Halloween, a child dressed up as Hurts and used pipe cleaners for dreads. "That was cute to me," he said.
Former Alabama quarterback Blake Sims, who reached the College Football Playoff in 2014 as a one-year starter, has developed a strong relationship with Hurts. In a way, Sims is sort of like a big brother.
"He looks after me a lot," Hurts said. "He knows how it is and he knows his experiences and he can only imagine what I'm going through, and I'm going to be here a little bit longer."
There's at least two more years of this for Hurts, who frowns at the word "hype" because he says it doesn't mean anything to him. But the buzz around Hurts isn't going away anytime soon. The attention will only grow if Hurts helps Alabama win the national title in his first year.
What's impressed so many people about Hurts is how unflappable he seems, even after mistakes. Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said he viewed Hurts as a potential NFL first-round pick during the first evaluation of the quarterback in high school.
Kiffin said Hurts couldn't have played as a true freshman in the past under Alabama's more complicated pro-style system. But since Saban evolved to no-huddle and run/pass play options, the terminology is more limited and the quarterback has less to handle.
"I remember when Oregon had kind of their run when we were at USC -- a quarterback would be gone and the next guy would come in," Kiffin said. "Or they lost a quarterback that one summer that they had to go to a new guy and it seemed like it didn't matter. Now I kind of understand why, because the offense is a lot easier to learn and you can play faster in it."
Everything is going fast for Hurts, the son of a high school coach, Averion Hurts. Jalen remembers his dad's best off-field advice: "Just keep your circle small. The bigger you get, the smaller your circle should be."
If Alabama wins two more games, Hurts is going to have to make his hoodie even tighter.