CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – During North Carolina’s lopsided victory over N.C. A&T on Sept. 12, running back Elijah Hood was dropped for a short gain by a single Aggies defender.
Not long after, Marquise Williams pulled Hood aside on the Tar Heel sideline and chewed on him a bit, as the fifth-year senior quarterback likes to say.
“One man should not ever bring you down. I never saw it in high school, so I shouldn’t see it now.”
Williams starred at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, N.C., roughly 30 miles north of where Hood played at Charlotte Catholic. Despite being separated by three years, Williams still knew about the power back on the south side of the Queen City who was just as liking to run over a defender as he was to run past.
Not much as changed in the transition from high school to college ball. Hood leads UNC with 545 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He ranks fifth in the ACC in total rushing yards, yet ranks 13th nationally in yards per carry (6.9) among running backs averaging a minimum of 10 carries per game.
“He’s healthy this year,” head coach Larry Fedora said on Monday. “He’s hungry, he runs extremely hard, he’s very physical, he really dislikes being tackled and the offensive line is better.”
Rarely, if ever, does an offensive player like to be tackled, yet Fedora hasn’t repeated that comment time and time again about his sophomore tailback without cause.
Hood practices with intentions of breaking every tackle, real or imagined, against a physically-elite defender or an unfortunate scout team member. Every rep in practice is an opportunity to perfect a juke move and to visualize the plays that he will make on Saturday. And during warmups before each game, he’s working on certain cuts that will fit particular plays and imagining the defenders’ angles in their attempts to tackle him.
“Something about being tackled just makes it seem like that guy beat me,” Hood said. “I don’t like to lose, no matter what the situation is, especially 1-on-1. I definitely don’t want to get tackled 1-on-1, no matter what. If you’re going to bring me down, you better bring your buddies. I’m not going down from one guy. That’s just the way it’s going to be.”
UNC’s defense doesn’t see much of Hood during the season, which is a good thing, according to sophomore defensive end Dajaun Drennon.
“Just seeing the stiff arms that he gives to people, laying his shoulder down and running through people, nah, I’d rather not have to do that,” Drennon said.
Hood’s explosiveness and accompanying dominance have been so impressive that many observers are questioning why he’s not getting the ball even more. He’s averaging 12.3 carries against FBS competition and earned headlines due to his absence on the field in UNC’s final possession against South Carolina in the season-opening loss.
Such discussions don’t matter much to Hood. He doesn’t have player-specific statistical goals in mind. No desired number of 100-yard rushing games. No particular yards-per-rush average. The only stat that interests the Tar Heel sophomore is the points on the scoreboard, thereby eliminating any concerns about rushing attempts or touches in general.
“All of us out there, we make plays,” Hood said. “It’s like a little competition between us as well. Who can make the most plays? It’s a lot of fun.”
Hood says he has no preference in running over a defender or juking around him. His goal is simply to make one defender miss, while forcing several more to bring him down.
That helps to explain why a random play against a FCS opponent in a blowout victory sticks in Hood’s mind over a month later.
“He laughs about it,” Williams said. “Every time he breaks two or three tackles, he looks at me and says, ‘One man will never bring me down.’”