PHILADELPHIA – The first question Jalen Hurts fielded from a group of middle schoolers Tuesday morning in the library at William Nebinger Elementary was one he’s definitely answered before.
“How did it feel when Tua Tagovailoa took over your starting job?”
The fans in this city can be tough, Hurts would later say. Kids, too.
What happened at Alabama is in the past for the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, now in his third NFL season and, thanks to a remarkable 2022 campaign, at the forefront of the Most Valuable Player conversation.
Hurts tailored his reply to what he and the other mentors had imparted to the 12 young boys in the room for the previous 90 minutes.
Follow every game: Latest NFL Scores and Schedules
Asking for help is OK.
During his time as a backup, Hurts relied on his family for support
NFL NEWSLETTER:Sign up now for exclusive content sent to your inbox
ROUGHING THE PASSER?:Could be time to include cases on replay review
“Because we all know that there’s going to be adversities along the way, there’s going to be struggles along the way,” Hurts later told USA TODAY Sports. “But being able to lean on someone you trust, that’s going to push you forward and kind of uplift you to higher heights and new heights.”
On Tuesday, in partnership with Truist, Hurts made four stops in the Philadelphia area as part of his “Day of Care,” an eight-hour tour of the community with momentsthat were personal to him.
“It’s a special day for me,” Hurts said.
Stop 1: Nebinger Elementary
There are too many people in the school library for the kids to not be suspicious. Someone famous is coming. They do not know who it will be.
Hurts entered to reactions that teetered from shock to excitement – setting a theme for the day. Once Hurts personally dapped up everyone who sat in the circle, it was time to get to work.
The young men are part of the KB Foundation, which targets middle-school-aged youth in Philadelphia to build developmental and social competencies thanks to their network of mentors. Twenty percent of the KB Foundation’s participants are Nebinger students.
Getting to the kids before high school is the key, KB Foundation vice president of operations and programs Justin Fishman said. The personal mentorship is why Hurts was drawn to the organization.
“I think when you have mentorship, you have mentors around you, you have people that are trying to help you dream on it, that’s something that’s a resource that you have to use,” Hurts said while the Escalade he was riding in drove north on I-76. “So if you can get the kids to understand that early, get the kids to understand what true trust and friendship looks like – because everybody is not your friend.”
Tuesday’s lesson with Hurts was to teach the kids that healthy people ask for help. They talked about what feelings are present while asking for help: shame, humility, relief.
During breakout sessions, the kids were all handed journals with the inside cover filled with terms to express emotion. The goal now is for them to write three things every day for which they are grateful. Once they completed their first entry, they showed Hurts, and he signed the journal and took a picture with them. Hurts, who journals himself as a way of staying present, later said the kids were grateful for some of the same things he is.
It can be hard for the kids to realize the potential they have, Hurts said.
“They can be great stories in the end because I see where they come from. I never walked in their shoes,” Hurts said. “We all experience the same things in different weights, different heights, different levels. I was once a kid with a big dream. I was once a kid that had goals. I’m still a kid – a young man – that has goals. I just think the importance of knowing that to achieve those things, it’s hard to do alone.”
Truist provided the mahogany-colored journals and also funded (along with Hurts) a trip for four students in the KB program to travel to Côte d’Ivoire.
The KB Foundation connection
The first stop was Hurts’ longest of the day because of his connection to the KB Foundation, which happened by pure chance. Over the summer, Hurts was filming a commercial at the Phield House where the KB Foundation was holding its Saturday basketball clinic (two hours of tutoring, two hours of playing).
Hurts saw a bunch of kids playing basketball and went over to say hello. The cameras followed. He waved them off, Fishman said, and hung around for a while before learning more about the program.
After his time with the KB Foundation on Tuesday, Hurts was introduced in front of the entire student body on the auditorium stage by Nebinger principal Ayana Townsend.
“He’s a symbol of hope,” Townsend told USA TODAY Sports. “What he stands for, the community service he provides. To actually see someone in person and say, ‘That can be me.'”
The scene should be in the next season of “Abbott Elementary.” Kids asked questions like “how tall are you?” and “My teacher has a huge crush on you, can you take a picture with her?”
Hurts snapped a photo with the educator while the auditorium went into a frenzy. After a while, it was off to the next stop.
“Sometimes when you leave stuff like that, it’s like, ‘Man, I just hope they know where I was coming from. I hope that they take something away from it and I hope I changed them in a positive way,’ ” Hurts said. “But lo and behold, they’ll never realize the impact that they had on me today. Everything going in their lives, they’ll never realize that. They deserve all the credit.”
“Kids,” he added, “They got so much power.”
Stop 2: Walter B. Saul High School
On. Sept. 27, Nicholas Elizalde was fatally shot following a football scrimmage at Roxborough High School, where he played for the Saul-Roxborough team. He was 14.
The news broke the hearts of sisters Maya and Kala Johnstone, two former school principals who now run the restaurant FoodChasers’ Kitchen.
“Sometimes you just see certain faces on the screen,” Maya Johnstone said.
Diehard Eagles fans since their father would take them to two-a-day training camp practices in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the Johnstones developed a relationship with Hurts through Pepsi. “Thursday Night Football” filmed a pregame segment with Hurts at the restaurant.
“Jalen ‘Our Angel’ Hurts,” Maya Johnstone said.
When Truist came to Hurts with plans for Tuesday, he knew he needed to do something with the Johnstone sisters. And they had a plan. As former educators, they knew the first days and weeks after a tragedy can be a whirlwind for the school. Doing something down the line would be more meaningful.
What resulted was a luncheon inside the gymnasium. A “Do it for No. 62,” Elizalde’s number, hung on the wall. As the team waited, Hurts met privately with the family for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, the on-site DJ started an “MVP” chant before Hurts walked through the doors.
“If there’s one thing I learned about the city of Philadelphia,” Hurts told the room, “it’s that we’re gonna do it all together.”
Hurts ate with Elizalde’s teammates who, beyond the trauma of losing a friend, also ran from gunfire that day. The quarterback snapped selfies with everyone in the gym. A dance circle formed in front of the speakers, and he waited on the edge. The kids laughed. They remembered their friend.
“I was looking around earlier,” Saul-Roxborough coach Mike Stanley told USA TODAY Sports. “Big, tough guys (with) smiles on their faces. They had that pure joy they haven’t had. It was nice.”
Stop 3: Surprising a financial coach
The shortest of the stops, Hurts visited financial coach Allison Sanka. Hurts was especially pleased to hear that most of Sanka’s clients are single moms pursuing a loan, their first home or some form of capital for their business.
Truist provided Sanka with four tickets to the Jan. 8 regular season finale against the New York Giants. It will be the first Eagles’ home game Sanka attends. She said she went to an Eagles while living in Dallas and “I almost got killed,” she said.
Hurts signed a jersey for Sanka and took a picture with her son, Evan, who happened to be around the office and needed his own photographic evidence – otherwise, his friends wouldn’t believe him.
Stop 4: Hank Gathers Youth Access Center Coat Drive
Hurts and Truist saved the most rambunctious stop of the day for last, and Hurts’ growing comfort on the microphone was evident when he instructed the kids to settle down while he was speaking.
University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, a North Philadelphia native, operates her foundation out of the recreation center, which hosts after-school and summer programs for children and acts as a soup kitchen.
On Tuesday, Hurts helped pass out 100 winter jackets donated by Tru and spoke with the families in attendance.
One kid asked him what it is like playing with wide receiver A.J. Brown.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Hurts answered.
“Do you play Fortnite?” another boy asked.
Between a day like Tuesday and the pursuit of a Super Bowl, there isn’t much time for video games.
Kids don’t understand that yet, Hurts knows. But he’s going to everything within his power to show them the way.
“(The kids) give me hope. They give me the endurance to keep going,” Hurts said. “That’s what it is. They gave me help. We’re talking about help. They just gave me so much help. To keep going. To stay strong. Stay consistent. All these different things, they shine their light on me, they don’t even realize. They don’t even realize that they’re doing that.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
Story Credit: usatoday.com