Editor’s note: Brien is a well-traveled Houstonian and Army Combat Veteran with an extremely wide range of talents and interests including the NFL (Packers), Irish History, and writing. Follow him on twitter @ODonalsVanguard
By BRIEN O’DONAL
On Monday many of us will tune in to watch the College National Championship Game to see if Alabama can go undefeated and win in consecutive years. There are so many reasons for sports fans to be excited about this game and millions will tune in to watch. In years past I would not be one of those. I’ve never been much for college football. I went to college at a private Catholic university where the only major sports were basketball and volleyball, and truthfully even those weren’t good enough to get a majority of students excited. My wife, on the other hand, spent her whole life in Fayetteville, Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig Sooie!). Because of that I have taken more of an interest and now I follow the college game along with my NFL. Sadly, Arkansas is not playing the in game Monday so if it wasn’t for where I grew up I would only catch bits and pieces here and there between whatever else I’m doing at that time.
This year is different though. Like probably thousands of people from where I grew up, I will have eyes glued to the TV to see if he can win a championship. Jalen Hurts, the Pride of the Falcons! That’s right, I’m a graduate of Channelview High School. The thought of watching someone who went to our school being on the cusp of something great swells me and all the other residents of Channelview with pride. For us, it’s rare enough that a player signs with a major college program but this one signed with ALABAMA! That means championships.
Honestly, having grown up in Channelview and knowing how little attention gets paid to that program, I didn’t really think I would see Jalen on the field for at least a few years. Not that I didn’t think he was talented — I saw him play a few games in high school and I could see he was special, but he comes from Channelview, sports stars rarely come out of there — or at least that’s what it feels like.
I played football at CHS during the late 90’s when the program was pretty much a punching bag. My senior year we only won 2 games. I remember in 1993 when the team made the playoffs and I thought, wow, this school is great I can’t wait to play football for them. They never made the playoffs again until Hurts led the team in 2015. When I played, the only pro athlete to come out of there was Glenn Wilson, a career .265 hitter for multiple baseball teams from 82′ to 93′. I didn’t even really know who he was other than he made it and came from Channelview.
In my high school years there was one college star my football team could look at. Brandon Jennings, son of the athletic director. He was a standout safety at Texas A&M. It was great seeing him play with the big boys. He even went on to play in the NFL for three seasons with the Raiders, however he did nothing of note. I’ve met him before after he came back to coach at his old high school. Nice guy, but not the big pro star we all wanted. During my senior year I played with Sione Ohuafi, who signed with the University of Indiana. That was my school’s next big player and we were all ready to see him in the NFL. That is until he left school and wound up bouncing around the Arena Football League. While that is still a great accomplishment, it’s nothing to rally the town.
After Sione was out of mind in Channelview there was the great incident of Chris Sampson and the Houston Astros. It was great to see a hometown guy make it, but geez; there were really times as an Astros fan that I wanted him off the team. I’m glad he got to be a Channelview hero for four years because he was a pro player who got serious time. (Honestly, my Mom was super excited when she got him to sign a jersey and baseball for me. The jersey was donated to charity and the baseball is used by my nephew for catch with his dad).
Then came the sad story of a player who could have been a legitimate star in the NFL and I feel a bit sad when I think of what happened to him. In 2009 my Mom (at the time a teacher at CHS) asked me if I had been watching Johnny Knox play for the Bears. Being a Packers fan I had only seen him play against my team and hated everything he did well. She informed me that he was a Channelview graduate and I began to feel the same sense of pride I feel now for Jalen Hurts. In the three years Knox played for the Bears he was a serious young talent, even making the Pro Bowl as a kick returner. Channelview finally had a guy who was going to be the huge superstar the town could name streets after and hold parades for. Then came the injury. On Dec. 18, 2011, Knox was bent backward on a fumble recovery and suffered a serious spinal injury that ended his career before it could really blossom. I and everyone else in Channelview who had watched him felt our hearts sink. And that leads us to the present.
Everything I’ve written before this is the history of Channelview High School sports as I remember it. Things are different now. In the age of social media I remember seeing on Facebook pictures of Nick Saban standing next to Hurts in the halls of my high school. I heard about his performance in the practice leading up to last year’s championship game. But seriously, he was from Channelview, there was probably going to be someone better than him from a big time high school that would always keep him on the sidelines. Much to my surprise he was the starter from nearly day one and the pride of Channelview became a national phenomenon. I have read every news article I have seen about him. I have tried to watch him play as often as I can. It’s a hometown pride. He’s a Falcon, I’m a Falcon.
Regardless of the outcome Monday we know that playing for the Crimson Tide will give him plenty of chances to be in the big game. From everything I’ve read about Hurts he could have a chance to not only make it to the NFL, but be successful. But it’s too early to talk about that. Right now, I and every alumnus of CHS are watching intently and with great pride the next big star to come from our town. If you’ve ever felt the sense of pride for where you’re from that I feel about this game then you know what I’m talking about. It’s almost indescribable. I can’t wait to see how he develops and maybe one day I will attend a parade when they name a street after him.