Will Youth Be Served?

The addition of promising running back prospect Elijah Hood to Notre Dame's 2014 class will provide head coach Brian Kelly his deepest backfield during five seasons at the helm. The combined talent among three running back recruits in the 2013 and 2014 cycles, none of which have hit campus, will be difficult to deny.

"This isn't happy camp…" -- Notre Dame running backs coach Tony Alford regarding his heavily populated position group, and the need to keep them "happy," circa 2009

Alford's running back unit won't experience anything close to Happy Camp in August (or spring) 2014, either. Not with Hood joining the six-man crew of 2013, all of which are non-seniors and likely to be in the fold entering next spring.

What they will experience, and what head coach Brian Kelly has always hoped to foster, is daily competition. Dog-eat-dog…may the best man (or in modern times, best "men") win…survival of the fittest.

Listed at 6'0" (he appears taller on film) 220 pounds, Hood is a light-footed battering ram with a second gear. More important, he has a unique, innate quality possessed by precious few: he runs with anger.

Plenty of 'backs are determined. Plenty run with purpose. Hood runs with complete disregard for his body, caring only for the extra yardage available in his path.

That disregard for his body will endear Hood to old school Irish fans that remember the halcyon Holtz-ian days of Notre Dame running backs. Its a style that will also likely equate to some injuries compiled over his four seasons in South Bend, but that's the case with most big 'backs that crave contact in exchange for yards and points.

A few Irish Eyes message board posters have compared Hood's style to the legendary Jerome Bettis. Others to recent senior season phenom Jonas Gray. I see a former teammate of Bettis' in Hood's gait: Tony Brooks.

Both were in the 6'0" 220 range (Brooks topped out at 230). Both possessed lower body strength. Both cared more about yards after contact than do most 'backs. Both more quick than fast, more power-based than elusive, and both utilize a natural runner's instinct to move through scrimmage, through traffic, and into the opposing secondary.

And the anger.

Could Hood emerge as a true freshman contributor as did Brooks in 1987? And as a sophomore star as did Brooks for the 1988 national champions thereafter?

Upon Arrival

A look at running back eligibility when Hood hits campus prior to the 2014 season:

Seniors George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel: The pair will enter their senior seasons upon Hood's arrival and either be firmly entrenched in their roles as starters/contributors or have fallen behind the pack. Expect the former...

Senior (redshirt-junior) Amir Carlisle: The most versatile of Irish backfield competitors, 2013 will be a tell-tale season for the dual-threat prospect -- entering his junior season, Carlisle is still saddled with the dreaded "P Word" due to a pair of injuries and his 2011 transfer from rival USC.

Junior (redshirt-sophomore) Will Mahone: Mahone's most important month is August, 2013, a time when he needs to establish trust from Alford, Kelly, and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. Once that's banked, opportunity will knock over the course of a long season, as running back is a volatile position guaranteed to produce injuries for the combatants ahead of him on the present depth chart...

Sophomores (or redshirt-freshmen) Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston: Much is expected of the pair, at least by 2014. Bryant is closer in model to Hood, and Irish fans are salivating at the possible "Thunder and Thunder" tandem for 2015 and beyond. Folston is viewed more in the Carlisle mold -- a compliment to the quick-footed power of Bryant and Hood…

2013 represents a transition year for the program in the backfield. None of the five runners Kelly inherited (Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, Jonas Gray, Robert Hughes, and Armando Allen) are on campus. But while '13 users in a new era, its 2014 that could see a youth-filled backfield by season's end.

Following in the (expected) footsteps of Bryant in 2013, look for Hood to contribute as a true freshman upon arrival. Not to be the lead 'back, but to serve as a weapon in what should be the best offense of the Kelly era (2014-15). A timely occurrence considering the program's stout defensive line will likely take a veteran hit with the loss of nose guard Louis Nix and defensive end Stephon Tuitt (the latter after 2014 if not sooner).

While dual-threats such as Carlisle, McDaniel, and Folston operate in a different realm, old school 'backs Hood and Bryant will put pressure on veterans such as Atkinson and Mahone as big 'back options for the 2014 backfield.

That competition won't produce a modern version of "Happy Camp," and the Irish program is better off for it.

Click here for our first installment in the season-long "Recruit Fit" series, and a look at pledges Greer Martini, Justin Brent, Jimmy Byrne, Jay Hayes, and Andrew Trumbetti.

O'Malley's look at interior offensive line prospect Sam Mustipher, the 2014 class's sixth pledge, can be found here.

His recent Recruit Fit column on tight end pledge Nic Weishar can be found here.

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