Nobody understands Jalen Hurts like Jamelle Holieway does

In 1985, it looked as if the Sooners were doomed when quarterback Troy Aikman suffered a broken ankle in Week 4 against Miami.

Turned out, Oklahoma had a wishbone savant on the sideline just waiting to be unleashed in true freshman Jamelle Holieway.

Holieway took over for Aikman, then took Oklahoma all the way to the national championship with a victory over Penn State in the Orange Bowl.

Never before had a true freshman quarterback led his team to a national title.

Not since, either.

But Monday against Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T (8 ET, ESPN), Alabama true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts will have the chance to join Holieway.

"I love the kid," said Holieway, who noted he has been paying close attention to Hurts this season and sees several similarities to himself, from the way Hurts carries himself on the field to his style of play.

"He doesn't break under pressure. He keeps his cool. He makes plays when he needs to, and gets the ball to his playmakers."

Like Holieway, Hurts didn't begin the season as the starter. And after subbing in for Blake Barnett on the third series in the opener against USC, Hurts fumbled the ball away on his first career snap.

But Hurts never lost his confidence or composure and came back to account for four touchdowns in Alabama's 52-6 rout of the Trojans.

After that, Hurts started every game for the Crimson Tide on his way to becoming the SEC Offensive Player of the Year.

"He always has the same demeanor," Holieway said. "Whether the good, bad or ugly, he keeps the same demeanor. And defenses can't change it."

Back in 1985, Holieway was the same way for the Sooners.

At 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds his true freshman season, Holieway absorbed plenty of big hits operating the option. But he didn't want defenders to believe that they could rattle him.

"My coaches taught me to never let the defense know they've stunned you," Holieway said. "That's what I see from Jalen. He took some hits from Washington, where I was like, 'Wow.' But he got right back up."

Like Hurts, who hails from Channelview, Texas, Holieway left his home state to join a dynasty.

Though he grew up in Carson, California, Holieway gradually became infatuated with Barry Switzer's Sooners.

"When I was a young kid, you always saw Oklahoma and Nebraska on Thanksgiving," Holieway said. "Then you had [former Sooners halfback] Joe Washington with those silver shoes, and [former Sooners quarterback] Thomas Lott with that bandana.

"I was like, 'That has to be a cool coach there. If I ever have the chance, I want to play for him.'"

When he came to Carson to recruit Holieway, Switzer sold his future quarterback on signing with Oklahoma by lying down on the floor with him to shoot marbles.

Being so far from home, Holieway initially was homesick in Norman. Debuting at sixth on the depth chart didn't help, either.

"I just wanted to make the traveling team so I wouldn't get left back in Norman by myself," Holieway said.

But the quarterbacks ahead of Holieway started getting injured. At the same time, he began turning heads running the scout team in practice. Then, the week of the Miami game, Switzer clairvoyantly gave Holieway his first few snaps with the starting offense.

"Coach Switzer must have had a crystal ball," Holieway said. "So when they said, 'Holieway, you're up, I was ready.'"

Holieway, however, had been preparing for this opportunity for most of his life. Having played quarterback out of a wishbone since he was 8 years old, Holieway said picking up Switzer's offense wasn't difficult.

"I could run it in my sleep," he said. "I don't know if every young person could've handled that pressure. But because I knew the offense, it wasn't no pressure for me at all."

Though Oklahoma lost to Miami, Holieway had his moments. The following week, in Holieway's first start, the Sooners destroyed Iowa State 59-14. From there, the Oklahoma offense exploded with Holieway orchestrating the option.

A month later, the Sooners cruised past second-ranked Nebraska 27-7 to clinch the Big Eight title and a trip to the Orange Bowl. Holieway finished his freshman year with 15 total touchdowns and was named first team All-Big Eight.

"Winning," said Holieway, when asked how he earned the respect of his teammates. "Winning cures all. The players knew my capability because I had been going up against the No. 1 defense in the nation in practice. If I could move the ball against them, whoever we were going to play would be a piece of cake."

Holieway's favorite moment of the 1985 season came in the Orange Bowl, when he tossed a perfect, 71-yard touchdown strike to Keith Jackson that gave Oklahoma a lead over the Nittany Lions for good.

Yet it wasn't the pass itself that made the moment memorable for Holieway. It was All-American linebacker Brian Bosworth sprinting onto the field without a helmet on to celebrate the pass with his quarterback.

"He almost tackled me," Holieway said. "But for 'The Boz' to be the first one out there -- that was special."

Holieway has noticed the Crimson Tide rally around Hurts in a similar special fashion.

"Him being a baby, the linemen are like the mother -- they want to take care of their baby," Holieway said. "They block for him as hard as they can. That's what I enjoy most about watching Alabama play.

"You can just see the respect the players have for him."