Coffee is for closers: The story behind Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts’ robust coffee analogy  

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) works during practice April 1 at Owen Field. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

Jalen Hurts received a few puzzling looks Wednesday when he said he was trying to live like a coffee bean.

The Oklahoma quarterback told reporters that a carrot softens and an egg hardens at boiling point, but a coffee bean will instead disseminate its properties, becoming something better altogether. And that’s what he hopes to do with the Sooners, figuratively speaking, during his one season in Norman.

Hurts didn’t pull the analogy out from under his backward Cincinnati Reds ball cap. He learned it from Damon West, who learned it in prison.

West, a former North Texas quarterback who overcame drug addiction and a 65-year prison sentence, addressed the Sooners on Monday via GrowU, a personal growth initiative Lincoln Riley created when he took over as head coach in 2017.

On the field, Riley will need Hurts to stack up rushing yards, complete a ton of passes and minimize his interceptions for OU to reach the College Football Playoff.

But off the field, Hurts is a junky for inspiration.

Even though he had heard the coffee bean message before — West spoke to Alabama in August of 2017, a few months before Hurts lost his starting job there, and the two exchanged phone numbers afterward — on Monday he listened closely and took notes “in the front row, first seat. That’s where you want your leaders to be,” West said.

West, who will visit 16 universities with his message this month, said he was overwhelmed in Norman. OU became interested in part because Clemson coach Dabo Swinney reached out to Riley about West’s message.

But former Sooner running back Joe Washington had a lot to do with West's appearance, too.

Washington grew up in Port Arthur, where West’s dad, Bob, was sports editor for the Port Arthur News. In 1969, the traditionally all-black Lincoln High School had de-segregated, but it had been just three years since Texas high school football was starkly divided. There were multiple state champions: those from the all-black Prairie View Interscholastic League and those from the all-white University Interscholastic League.

Washington, then a sophomore, was commanding attention with his play. A black player had never been on the cover of Port Arthur News’ special high school football season preview, until West placed Washington and his dad, Lincoln coach Joe Washington Sr., smack on the front.

It caused an uproar in the area, but Washington and the Wests were close ever since.

“Looking back and understanding the time all this took place, I can really appreciate even more so now how big of a deal it was, and for Bob West to take the steps he did,” Washington said. “From that day on he was always a supporter of Lincoln High School, and he gave us our fair share.”

And he never forgot the Wests. Washington was shaken when he heard Damon had been charged in a string of drug-related burglaries in Uptown Dallas in 2008.

That landed West in prison, where he first heard the coffee bean analogy from an older inmate who was trying to prepare him for life behind bars. West overcame tall odds and emerged a better person. He was released on parole three years ago and works as a paralegal at a law firm in Beaumont, Texas.

In July, West co-authored a second book, “The Coffee Bean,” which hit No. 2 on the Wall Street Journal's Best-Seller list within 10 days of being released.

Washington had been aware of West’s turnaround. When he learned he was visiting Power 5 schools across the country — gaining traction with bluebloods Alabama, Georgia and Clemson — he did everything he could to get him to come to OU.

West, whose North Texas team played OU in 1995, insists Hurts is the one providing inspiration, citing the way he handled himself after being benched in the 2017 national title game and serving as Tua Tagovailoa’s backup last season.

“A lot of people would’ve curled up in a ball, but he didn’t,” West said. “He stood straight up and stuck his chin out. That’s the coffee bean message, man.”

Houston at OU

When: 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 1

Place: Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium

TV: ABC

Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7

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Notable

• No starter at H-back: By mid-August of last season, Carson Meier had taken a sizable lead in OU’s H-back position race. That isn’t the case this year.

Brayden Willis and Jeremiah Hall are still even, assistant coach Shane Beamer said.

“Both those guys will have big roles for us offensively,” Beamer said.

• Stoops on Hurts: Count former OU coach Bob Stoops as a Jalen Hurts supporter. He told KDFW FOX in Dallas that he wonders why the Oklahoma quarterback isn’t being given the benefit of the doubt more often.

"Well I don't know why they wouldn't be giving him enough credit," Stoops said. “[He’s] an excellent athlete, and a passer and a quarterback.

"Lincoln does a great job, coach Riley, with the quarterbacks. That's been proven over and over again. He'll play to his strengths, and Jalen has a lot of strengths... And throwing the football is one of them."

• Quotable: Marquis Hayes, who is working for a starting spot at left guard, has a different perception of big. He was asked his shoe size recently after practice.

“I ain’t got no big feet,” he said. “I wear a size 14.”

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