Alan Smith was in Houston this spring, taking inventory, when something went wrong. The associate principal at Channelview High School also mentors dozens of kids each year through the Rockstarz, a local AAU basketball program. Except this year, he wasn't going to be able to outfit all his boys on the court. Short on uniforms, the Rockstarz were even shorter on money. How were they supposed to promote proud unity and identity to their teens if they couldn't even promise matching jerseys?

So Smith did what he needed to do: he dialed an old friend. It just so happened this friend was the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Jalen Hurts came through Channelview himself, years earlier, born and bred in the Houston area. The whole family remains: his dad, Averion, has been the school's head varsity coach for more than a decade; his mom, Pamela, is a school counselor; his brother, Averion Jr., coaches with nearby Summer Creek; and his sister, Kynnedy, graduates in 2023. Certainly Jalen, entering a prove-it year as the young face of an NFL franchise, was the busiest of them all when Smith called. It didn't matter.

"I was having a hard time," Smith says, "and I said, 'Hey man, can you help me get a couple uniforms -- like three or four -- real quick?' And Jalen said, 'Well, is that all you need?' He told me to expect a call the next day."

Sure enough, less than 24 hours later, representatives from Champs Sports and Eastbay Performance were on the line with Smith, offering not just a couple of new unis, but an entire makeover of the Rockstarz program. Hurts, Smith explains, had instructed his apparel partners to give them whatever they wanted, from jerseys to shoes to jogging shorts to athletic bags. In the end, every single player and coach for both the 16u and 17u teams benefited from an estimated $15,000 in combined gifts.

"To be able to impact the people back home on the east side of Houston, the entire city of Houston and the kids across the state of Texas and the world," Hurts says, "it runs deep, because you never realize who's watching, but you always know someone is watching. I just wanna set the right example. It may not even be the kid that looks up to me. They may look up to somebody else, but when they see the name Jalen Hurts, I want them to be able to say, 'That's how I can do it.'"

The 24-year-old was back in his hometown three times between the end of the Eagles' 2021 season and the day Smith rung him up, sometimes to cheer on Channelview but mostly to visit family. A whole new herd of boys couldn't wait for his next appearance after what happened. A whole region, to be more accurate.

"Jalen's name is like gold in the district," Smith says. "I didn't tell the kids, initially, who was responsible for it, but when I did, the facial expressions, the surprise, their appreciation -- it makes them feel special, to know someone of that stature would give back to them. They still talk about it today. They're always asking me, 'Hey Coach, is he coming to town?' Without Jalen we couldn't have bought no tennis shoes and bags for them. There was no way we could've done all that."

'It's not even about football'

The book has already been written about Hurts' football journey to this point: he's been a stout and shifty dual threat since the day he "owned the building" as a 17-year-old freshman at Alabama, and now, entering year three in the NFL, it's a matter of whether his arm can match his mettle to remain Philly's long-term leader. No one ever disputes his discipline; they just wonder if, a half-decade after the Eagles won their first Super Bowl, he's got the talent to contend for his own. Especially with the Birds seemingly built back up to make a run.

It's fitting, though, that the headlining move of the Eagles' acclaimed offseason involved the trade for star receiver A.J. Brown, who's talked endlessly since arriving about "going to war" for his new QB as both a player and a man. In between the wins and losses, people have felt his effect. In fact, for all this summer's stories about his future on the field, Hurts might've single-handedly exceeded them with charitable pitstops across the country.

A year before his contributions to the Rockstarz, the QB showed up unannounced to a 7-year-old cancer patient's house, with $30,000 of his own money. This June, he lent his even-keeled voice to the End Philly Gun Violence campaign, promoting weapon buybacks alongside local police to "get artillery off the streets." Then he hit the walk-off home run at teammate DeVonta Smith's celebrity softball game, raising money for St. Luke's University hospitals. August saw him surprise Philly-area middle-schoolers, partnering with Kellogg's to deliver $75K for the creation of local flag football teams.

Leading the Eagles may be his job, but changing lives is his reality.

James Wilmore can attest to it. A senior at Cheltenham High School in Wyncote, the Philly suburb where Hurts planted his Breed Of 1 youth camp this summer, he was one of several student volunteers at the event. As kids ages 6-16 got instruction and inspiration from the QB, not to mention a plethora of free food and drinks, from hoagies to Rita's, Wilmore was touched himself.

"I'm a Ravens fan, but now I'm an Eagles fan as well, seeing Jalen Hurts do what he did for young children," Wilmore says. "It motivates me. God blessed me as a football player, too, and if I was to make it to where Jalen Hurts is, I would wanna do the exact same thing he is doing. There was just a certain energy he had. You had to be there."

Speaking of energy, Hurts is notorious for being unbothered. He speaks in soft tones, and his facial expressions almost never tilt into extremes. It's his way of maintaining composure in both the highs and lows -- essential but underutilized, you might say, by many star players. Informed of Wilmore's comments, however, Hurts was almost taken aback.

"It's not even about football when someone says something like that, 'cause that's all the reassurance you need as a professional athlete, as a man trying to set the right example," Hurts says. "To hear a kid say that, I mean -- that means more than anything anybody else could tell me. That's why I do what I do. I don't do it for a pat on the back, I do it to set the right example for those to come. When a kid says that, that's a blissful feeling. ... I don't think you realize how huge that was for me to hear the kid say (that). ... I know you can't see me right now, but that put a smile on my face."

Star Wright, Cheltenham's high school defensive line coach, cleared her schedule just to volunteer at the same camp, and she witnessed countless other kids enlightened by his glow. Wright was already drawn to Hurts' commitment to empowering women in sports -- he notably employs Nicole Lynn, along with other women, as his primary agents -- but left an even bigger fan.

"We had 12 stations that day, rotating between them," Wright says. "I was in the group right behind Jalen, so we moved together throughout the camp. It was hot that day. It was a long day. And every time we changed groups, his energy level never changed. Especially if you're not used to dealing with kids on a daily basis, that's hard to do. He's serious about what he does. He believes in the impact that he can have on children. He dropped a lot of jewels that day."

'God only made me one way'

Jalen Hurts USATSI

If Hurts is such an inspiration, he must draw it from somewhere, or someone. Family is certainly near the top, but even there, he's giving back: the former second-round pick told GQ in 2020 that he set aside $70K of his rookie contract for his sister's college fund. And Alan Smith, a principal at his high school, insists Hurts goes above and beyond with his brother, Averion Jr.

"I don't think people realize," Smith says. "He has an older brother, and he will make sure that his older brother feels special because of where he's gotten. When he comes back to the high school, he acts like one of them, not Jalen Hurts. What people see is just who the young man is."

Perhaps he's just an "old soul," as he's called himself, born to be a little more selfless, a little more low-volume than his peers. Hurts certainly plays this part well, sporting throwback fashion and championing R&B music -- "Your Smile," by René & Angela, is on his playlist and single-handedly explains why this guy takes the field in a state of undying calm. He even jokingly offered to outfit this writer with a 1990s-style gold hoop earring, and did his own R&B voice when describing his hairstyle plans for 2022: "Braids or fade, whatever it is, if I have a fresh 'do, I feel very good. I feel very good."

But where family and fashion and good tunes keep him level, faith keeps him strong.

"I've just matured and realized that God is everything," Hurts says, "and He's worthy of praise. You have to put Him at the center of everything that you do. That's what I believe. All my spiritual wisdom -- all of my wisdom as a whole -- comes from Him, in some way, shape or form, whether that be passed down from my father, my mother, my grandmother. I just think, in all the things that we experience in life -- good, bad or indifferent -- you have to keep Him in the center.

"Someone asked me other day," he continues, "being an African-American quarterback in the NFL, being in this city, do I feel like I have (to) ... open up, or be a certain way? And I'm like, this is who I am. God only made me one way. That's to be me. That's to be Jalen Hurts. I think, being in this city, being the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, and just having the opportunity to play the game I love most, in the best city of football, I just go out there every day and I am who I am, and I keep God in the center, I give Him all the praise, I lean on Him all the time, and I know that everything unfolds the way it's supposed to."

You don't have to squint to see a future pastor talking, and there's actually precedent: besides following in the footsteps of prominent Black QBs in Eagles history, like Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick, Hurts plays a position once occupied by Randall Cunningham, a future ordained minister; and the outwardly faithful 2017 Super Bowl combo of Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, who's hinted at a future in church. Hurts laughs but doesn't dismiss the idea, promising he'll "go wherever God leads me," but "always envisioned being a coach" or pursuing a management role, perhaps in a front office or working with kids, later on.

In the meantime, he's got work to do. Games to win. A job to secure. Just don't think, for a second, that he's only got one mission in mind. A Lombardi Trophy is one thing; a well-loved community is another.

"It's something I think about every day," Hurts says of his impact, "being a quarterback in the league. Because you really have to kinda remove yourself and invest into your team, out of yourself, and into (those around you)."

He can rest assured, no matter how the tables turn on the field -- big wins, big season, big money, or otherwise -- that the real people he's touched are already satisfied. Everyone's buying into the possibility of the 2022 Eagles, and everything hinges on him as the focal point. But in reality, where it matters most, he's already won.

"We make sure," says Alan Smith, "in the facility, that Jalen Hurts will never be forgotten. I can guarantee you that."