CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The football field is like a battlefield, at least according to UNC running back Elijah Hood. After grueling weight room sessions throughout the offseason, Hood liked to curl up with a good book. That book just so happened to be The Art of War.
“It’s just a thing that gives you some instruction on tactical things that help you out when you’re going into a battle-like mentality,” Hood told reporters after UNC’s opening day of training camp on Friday.
The first-team All-ACC running back from Charlotte, N.C. enters his junior campaign hoping to improve on his career year in 2015. Hood’s prolific season last year – he rushed for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns - proved that his skills were all there, but maybe it’s how he saw the game tactically that needed work. That’s where his extracurricular reading came into play.
“The football field is kind of like a war where you have your generals, like your offensive coordinators and head coach, and they’re trying to implement their soldiers,” he said. “The commanders are like the team leaders and captains, and if they don’t follow the instructions of the general then it hurts the foot soldiers.”
On Friday, the junior realized that it was now his turn to step up as a leader, or commander, on the Tar Heels’ squad.
“I’m just trying to be more vocal,” Hood said. “Last year I kind of just ran the ball and let my play speak. Now I try to encourage guys when I see them doing the extra work and pushing themselves.”
The idea of being a leader is never something Hood desired, but he understands that it’s a responsibility that comes with his job. He recalled having to be a leader before, but in a slightly different environment.
“It’s something that happens naturally when you’re able to produce,” he said. “When you’re in high school and you produce at that level the team looks to you so it’s kind of the same thing. In college you’ve got to remember that you’re talking to grown men, but you’ve also got some of the fresh-out-of-high-school guys.”
While most of UNC’s offensive arsenal from last season is returning, Hood and company will be transitioning with new starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The 230-pound running back couldn’t help himself with the war references, coining the junior quarterback as the Tar Heels’ field general.
Hood’s running style can best be described as that of a cannonball. He’s either trying to blow past a defender or bowl right over them if need be.
“You can’t go slipping on him,” UNC junior defensive tackle Nazair Jones said. “You can’t just bump him and think he’s going to go down. He’ll run through you and make you look bad. When you’re going up against him, you’ve got to bring everything you’ve got, because if not, then you will get embarrassed and be on somebody’s highlight tape. He’s a monster.”
If Hood’s a cannonball, then his offensive line is the cannon that propels him. Four starters return to UNC’s front line this season after helping Hood to the second-most prolific rushing season in school history.
With seven starters returning on offense, Hood and the Tar Heels are setting high expectations for 2016. Even after leading the nation in yards per play (7.28) last year, there are improvements to be made, according to Hood.
“We made strides, but there’s always more we can do,” he said. “We can be so much better in certain things… We want to be the best offense in the nation.”
And if Hood and the Tar Heels are able to accomplish their lofty goals this season, they may have one book to thank.