It’s no secret that Charlotte Catholic running back Elijah Hood is one of the best athletes to come out of Mecklenburg County in recent memory. Scouts have had their eye on the 6-foot, 220-pound running back since his freshman year.
Last year, during his junior season, Hood rushed for 3,309 yards and 48 touchdowns. In his 10 games this season as a senior, he’s already rushed for 2,388 yards and 32 touchdowns, a number that keeps increasing with each passing Friday.
His talent is obvious, as he’s Mecklenburg County’s all-time leading rusher (7,879 career yards, which is the fifth-highest total in state history) and touchdown scorer (118). He’s already a household name among football fans across the country, and his recruitment process has garnered him national media attention.
What’s a little less apparent is the fact that Hood is still a 17-year-old high school senior, focused on making the most of his time left at Catholic and dealing with the pressures of constantly being in the spotlight.
Attend a Catholic game on any given Friday night and it’s easy to see that Hood already has a large following. Kids of all ages flock to him after wins, wanting autographs and pictures.
He already has more fans than most have in their lifetime, and he hasn’t even graduated high school yet.
“It’s a little bit crazy,” Hood said. “Having fans like that is really special, to have so many people looking up to you. You have to be an example and that comes with a lot of pressure. I have to set an example for these kids, because I know they’re looking at me and watching me. That’s something that’s really starting to sink in.”
What they’re watching is Hood light up the scoreboard every week, helping lead the Cougars (8-2, 4-0) to their undefeated conference record.
Hood had a monster game when Catholic took down Ardrey Kell 49-24 on Nov. 1, rushing for 351 yards and six touchdowns on 19 carriers – the seventh time he’s topped 300 yards in a game in his illustrious career. Two scoring runs were from 68 yards and he put up a third of 80 yards – and it wasn’t even his best performance. Hood torched Olympic for a career-high 360 yards and four touchdowns last season.
With performances like that, it’s no wonder that people across the country are talking about Hood’s immense talent.
But even with his stardom continuing to rise, Hood is more focused on the Catholic team effort and less on himself.
“I want to be that player that the team can count on. I want to be Mr. Consistency for them,” he said. “They depend on me, and I want to depend on them just as much. I want to carry the weight of the team, and I want everyone on the team to want that for themselves. If everyone does that, we’ll have a great football team.”
Becoming a Tar Heel
By the time Hood was a junior, he had his pick to play for nearly any school in the country. Top ACC and SEC programs heavily recruited Hood, including Georgia, Florida State, Notre Dame, South Carolina, and the list continues.
“Recruitment is a monster,” Hood said. “It gets really crazy, and even crazier senior year. But it’s unique and a rare opportunity and I’m blessed to have that opportunity.
“At the same time, it does get hectic and crazy,” he said, laughing.
The craziness Hood refers to is evidenced by his back-and-forth commitment process, not to mention a lapse in judgment when he playfully flushed an Alabama recruiting letter down the toilet and posted a video of the incident on Twitter, which later went viral. It was a lesson learned for the up-and-coming star. Hood quickly realized that seemingly innocent actions could have drastic consequences and he quickly removed the video and issued an apology for his behavior.
“I think I’m getting used to the attention, kind of,” Hood said. “I’m adjusted to it at (the high school) level, but I know I’ll have to get more adjusted at the next level. But I’m learning to grow into it, and develop myself in that way.”
Originally, Hood committed to Notre Dame. But on Aug. 20, via his Twitter account, the would-be Fighting Irish announced he would no longer be playing for coach Brian Kelly.
Just a week later, it surfaced that Hood would become a Tar Heel.
Hood originally stated that his desire to be close to his family and the community he grew up in was a huge factor in deciding to play for coach Larry Fedora, and months after making that decision, Hood said that he stands by that statement.
“I feel like I take a gasp of fresh air every time I think about that decision,” Hood said. “Like, when I think about those relationships with my family and the community that I’ve always been able to fall back on, I know I made the right decision. I’ve been playing football here since I was 7. It’s very special to me.”
The next step
Though Hood’s senior year isn’t even halfway through, he’s already looking forward to the prospect of what he’ll bring to Fedora’s team – which is trudging through the current season with a 3-5 record and may not make a bowl game, a sharp decline from season’s past.
The five-star recruit, who is tabbed the No. 3-ranked running back and No. 14 overall prospect in the country by Yahoo.com, is the highest rated player in UNC’s recruiting class and will bring size and strength to Fedora’s Spread offense, which relies on a strong running game.
Hood, whose power and athleticism drew in recruiters wanting him to play linebacker, will instead position alongside fellow North Carolinian and current freshman T.J. Logan to add depth to Fedora’s backfield. Logan’s Northern Guilford team defeated the Cougars, 64-26, in last year’s Class 3-AA championship game behind Logan’s all-classification state-record 510 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Hood’s size, force and natural instincts make him a workhorse on the field that should translate easily into the collegiate level, especially at a school that sits just below the top echelon of football programs. He clocks 4.48 seconds in the 40-yard-dash according to ESPN – pretty swift for a guy weighing 220 – and has the ability to dodge defenders, rarely going down on first contact.
But for Hood, playing at the next level is simpler than that.
“I just want to help,” he said. “I can see myself with the Tar Heels, and I’m excited about it. I want to help them win games, and that’s something I think I can do.”
And even though football will consume Hood’s time at Carolina, he said he’s looking forward to pursuing other interests there, as well, such as a degree in business or computer science.
“Right now, I’m trying to balance my time and focus on balancing my lifestyle, because I know when you get to college, you get a lot of free time and have to start handling things by yourself,” Hood said. “I’m trying to get that responsibility and accountability together now, so I can be a well-rounded person and handle both the collegiate football and the academics.”
Leaving a legacy
With Catholic’s regular season wrapping up this week against rival Providence in a game that will determine the So. Meck 8 champion, Hood is ready to help spur his team toward a state championship – something that would leave his mark on the school as a Cougar.
“I’ve made some of my best memories this year, things I’ll never forget,” Hood said. “We have team dinners every Wednesday with the football team, where we go out as a team and someone’s family makes a huge meal for us.
It’s things like that, those are the things I’m going to miss.”
The 17-year-old, who dressed up like a character from the movie “The Sandlot” with some of his teammates for Halloween, knows the clock is ticking as he works to even further leave his mark at Charlotte Catholic.
“I have to sum everything up and leave everything I’ve got on the field because I don’t have it to come back to,” he said. “You have to leave something for people to remember you. You have to leave your legacy and I think our class is doing a good job of that.
“What do I want my legacy to be here? Hard working. Never quitting. Keeping the tradition alive. And a state championship.”