It's truly a small world after all.
On Monday night, 8-year-old Brayden and 6-year-old Alexander August watched a rebroadcast of the 2019 Big 12 Championship Game between Oklahoma and Baylor from their home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Alexander's favorite player is quarterback Jalen Hurts, who threw for 287 yards and a touchdown in the overtime victory that gave the Sooners a ticket to the College Football Playoff.
The August brothers, both quarterbacks on their respective flag football teams coached by their father Joshua, mimicked Jalen's moves, rewinding the game to study his footwork and pick up pointers for the upcoming season, which has been delayed until at least October because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nearly 1,300 miles away in Philadelphia, unbeknownst to the boys, Jalen sent out a tweet meant for the youngest of the family's three sons.
Earlier this summer, when Alexander's mother, Nikki Godfrey, asked her son which backpack he wanted to start first grade, he replied that he wanted a Jalen Hurts backpack. Why is Alexander's favorite player the Eagles' rookie quarterback? As Nikki explains it, "He feels like Jalen is tough. Even though he got placed on another team, he still plays very hard and tries hard, and that's what a champion is."
"A 6-year-old first-grader said that?" a stunned Jalen said over the phone on Tuesday night.
"For him to say that, he gets more brownie points with me. I've got a lot of love for this kid already. I've had my fair share of things that I've had to overcome. For a 6-year-old little boy to kind of realize that shows his maturity. For me, I just want to set the right example for all people watching. I guess Alexander the Great gets it."
It's easy to admire Jalen for the way he handled himself with poise and maturity after being benched at halftime of the National Championship Game in the 2017 season with Alabama, only to watch Tua Tagovailoa rally the Crimson Tide to the title. Two years later, Jalen got a shot to be a starter once again at Oklahoma and became the first quarterback to lead two teams to the College Football Playoffs, earned Big 12 Male Athlete of the Year honors, and was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.
"It was refreshing that he gravitated toward someone like Jalen," said Nikki, who spent 11 years as an event and production coordinator for ESPN, and still works for the company in a freelance capacity for special events like the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia. "You want your kids to excel in whatever their passion is, but you also want them to understand that it's equally as important to be a good person and to take time and give back and recognize the blessing that you have, and I think they see all of that in him.
"There are some great life lessons that you take from Jalen's story that even a 6-year-old can understand."
Unfortunately for Nikki, there were no Jalen Hurts backpacks to be found. Her mother, Cynthia Godfrey, did the next best thing. She printed Jalen's name and number on a backpack using a Cricut machine.
Alexander loved it and didn't want to wait until school to use it. On a family trip last month to the Louisiana Children's Museum in New Orleans, Alexander was running around, having fun, and playing. His athletic skills captured the attention of other visitors to the museum, only Nikki couldn't understand at first why everyone was calling her son, Jalen. Until, she remembered the bookbag.
That inspired her to send a tweet and tag the real Jalen Hurts in it. She wasn't looking for or expecting any sort of response and honestly forgot about it until Monday night.
Jalen said that someone notified him about the tweet. He could have responded with a simple message and called it a day. That acknowledgement alone would make any fan feel special. But the rookie recalled being in Alexander's shoes not that long ago and getting a chance to visit Houston Texans Training Camp practice and meeting star players like wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster. Jalen was inspired to want to do something a little more special for Alexander.
"Now to have the same platform in a sense and to be able to touch so many people, I try to take advantage of every opportunity I can. It's a blessing. That means the world to me," Jalen said. "That's what it's all about – giving back, showing love, and helping others. That's what it comes down to. That's the rent we pay to live on this earth."
Jalen got his own cyan-colored backpack with Alexander's name stitched on it. They're "twinning" not just because of the stylish accessory, but because Jalen's middle name happens to be Alexander.
Nikki said that Alexander woke up around 7:45 on Tuesday morning. It was the oldest brother Joshua's 13th birthday which meant donuts for breakfast, so Alexander was already in a great mood to start the day. Nikki said that she had a message for him and showed the tweet from Jalen. After waking up the rest of the house – and possibly the neighborhood – screaming and running around in excitement, Alexander asked if he could write a thank you letter.
Jalen carried around his new backpack all day on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex. Following his final position group meeting of the night, Jalen learned that the two August boys were watching his performance as he was getting ready to send that tweet our nearly 24 hours earlier.
"For him to be watching my game as I sent that tweet out," Jalen said as he paused, taken aback by the coincidence. "That's beyond me. That's God right there."