To be or Nutt to be

Jalen Nutt thrives despite position change


Parker Maroney

Jalen Nutt weaves through the San Marcos defense. Nutt has compiled 1,661 total yards and 17 touchdowns in his first season as a varsity quarterback.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

He’s a football player. In his own words, he’s a family guy. But the story of Jalen Nutt stretches far beyond the football field.

Nutt’s origin story begins in California, but just like him, it doesn’t linger there for long. Everything just costs too much. So, while Jalen was in middle school, his family moved to Texas.

“I would say [the biggest change was] football,” Nutt said. “It’s more of a culture [in Texas] … Everything’s bigger out here. It’s like, [compared to] the press boxes out here that I’ve seen, [California’s press boxes are] basically like a deer [blind].”

His assimilation was eased by relationships formed early on and a passion for the gridiron. Before long, he’d caught the eyes of coaches at the high school.

“He came up a quarterback in the seventh, eighth and ninth grade, but he also played defense,” said head football coach Larry Hill. “We knew he had a future there.”

Thanks to the presence of current Division I quarterbacks Levi Williams and Luke Gombert, Nutt was forced to switch positions. And that future Hill spoke of came sooner than expected – although it wasn’t necessarily a welcome change.

“I was kinda nervous [about playing defense], cause I really didn’t have that much experience [at cornerback] besides middle school,” Nutt said. “I was hoping to switch over [to quarterback] my senior year.”

Nutt made the playoff roster as a freshman and earned a starting spot the following year. His junior season, he intercepted three passes and was named an Honorable Mention All-District cornerback. Everything was coming together.

“I felt [at] home at cornerback my junior year,” Nutt said.

Then everything changed.

Gombert’s graduation left the team without a quarterback. Nutt would finally get that position switch he so desperately wanted – except, he didn’t want it anymore.

“You [have to] arrange the puzzle pieces so the picture looks the best,” Hill said. “And Jalen was probably a bit apprehensive about it, real frankly, in the beginning.”

“I was upset,” Nutt said. “But I’m a team guy [and] it’s not about me, [so] I was ready to make the switch.”

The change was set to be instituted during spring ball. But even the best-laid plans of mice, men and football coaches often go awry, and this time the culprit was a global pandemic.

“[It’s] hard to do, to take a two year hibernation in a complex position (quarterback),” Hill said. “That is tough, but we made a decision in the off season that we needed to look at moving him back there, and right as we began to get going on that, then we’re out (because of Covid).”

“We were working out until quarantine hit,” Nutt said. “I was worried about that. I didn’t know what to do. So I just got some receivers [from] Cornerstone Christian School … to go throw with me. And then I got a trainer, he kind of helped me get my feet right faster, get the ball out. And then our coaches here, they were helping me. And we did Zoom meetings as a team.”

Nutt’s future is at cornerback – he’s been invited to play at the San Antonio All-Star game at the position – and he’s the only member of last season’s starting secondary who didn’t graduate. But the team needed a quarterback. It’s a predicament that still bothers his head coach.

“I worry about it every day,” Hill said. “Still do.”

There’s no one better qualified to handle the switch than Nutt. He’s accustomed to change, and was already a team leader. The move to quarterback only amplified his voice.

“[He] just brings up a leadership thing to that position, which is obviously something you’ve got to have at the quarterback position,” Hill said. “We’ve got several really fine leaders on this team, [and] Jalen’s certainly one of them.”

“Kids feed off of what he does and what he says and how he carries himself. Anytime you can have that at the quarterback position, you’ve got something.”

It was the opposite of ideal circumstances. But once opening night rolled around, Nutt looked Harker Heights in the eyes and didn’t blink.

The Knights would go on to win seven of their next nine games en route to a playoff berth, but that night belonged to Smithson Valley’s new quarterback. He racked up 223 total yards and two touchdowns, leading the Rangers to a 45-27 win.

“[I was thinking], we got this, we’re rolling,” Nutt said of his postgame emotions. “These guys are not afraid; I’m not afraid.”

The game may have opened the eyes of some fans – after all, for many it was their first interaction with Nutt as a quarterback – but Hill wasn’t surprised.

“He’s such a gamer,” Hill said. “However good or bad that he looks in practice, you know he’s gonna ramp it up. When the lights come on, he tends to play even better than he’s practiced, and he practices well. 

“But we saw that at cornerback. He did some things in practice, but under pressure on Friday night, he’d tend to play at a higher level even yet. And we’ve seen that a bit at quarterback [as well].”

Fast forward a few months, and Nutt’s back was up against the wall. He had accounted for 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first seven games, but with the top seed on the line against Steele, he completed under 50% of his passes and threw four interceptions. The Rangers lost, 14-10.

But a week later, he bounced back in a big way. In hostile territory at top-ranked Judson’s Rutledge Stadium, Nutt exploded for 262 total yards and four touchdowns with no turnovers. The Rangers won, 35-32, denying their foes an outright district title and justifying the position switch to the man himself.

“Most definitely [it justified the move in my mind],” Nutt said. “It showed I’m able to air the ball out, giving our wideouts a chance to come down with [a] catch for a big play, and also [pound] the ball, [get] through great blocks [and get] into the end zone.”

He followed that performance up with a 24-20 playoff win at Reagan, in which he rallied the team back from a 17-point halftime deficit. 

But the next challenger to enter the ring is the most intimidating one yet: defending state champion Austin Westlake. It’s the type of challenge legends thrive on, and Nutt is more than ready.

“[I have the] same mentality as every game,” Nutt said. “We have to do what we do, better than they do what they do.”

Nutt isn’t a prototypical quarterback. But his success isn’t some byzantine labyrinth of convoluted coincidences – it’s actually quite simple. Through all the twists and turns life has thrown his way, Jalen Nutt has put selflessness in front of his own pride. 

Against his own preference, he switched to cornerback, and worked hard enough to earn recognition and scholarship offers at the position. Then, when he was finally happy there, he ceded again, returning to his old position and leading his team to their first playoff win since 2017.

The Jalen Nutt story is one of a hero. A hero who stepped forward when no one else would, and stepped up when no one else could. Heroes put themselves through the ringer for the sake of others; he’s done exactly that. Jalen Nutt is a hero. And, win or lose on Friday, he’ll be remembered not by his record, but by his sacrifice.