In nearly 25 years of covering high school athletics in and around Mecklenburg County, Ive seen many phenomenal kids, including some of the best football players to ever play in North Carolina.
I believe I might be watching another now.
I thought this last year, but kept it to myself. Im going to say it publicly now: Charlotte Catholic junior running back Elijah Hood - he of the 350-pound bench press, 500-plus pound squat and electronically timed 4.51-second 40-yard dash - is the best running back Ive seen in more than 20 years.
And no offense to players such as Nick Maddox (Kannapolis A.L. Brown) or Natrone Means (Central Cabarrus) or Alvin Pearman (Charlotte Country Day) or Ryan Houston (Butler), but until now I always felt the best area running back Id ever seen since I started working here was West Charlottes Brian Knuckles.
Knuckles had fullback size, sprinters speed and incredible vision. He was a two-time Observer Player of the Year who was unstoppable. At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Hood is a little bigger than Knuckles and has the same kind of vision and the same kind of sudden acceleration that can take your breath away.
Hood can literally stop, hop to change direction and be at full speed in a step. He has a chance to top Knuckles in my mind.
Friday against Ashbrook, Hood punished the Green Wave for 306 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. He ran over the Green Wave linemen at the line of scrimmage and juked and stiff-armed the secondary. He also outran a few of the defensive backs to the end zone.
The 306 yards rushing ties for 14th best in Mecklenburg County history. Not halfway into his junior season, Hood is approaching 3,000-career yards. Barring injury, hell seriously challenge Houstons Mecklenburg County career record of 5,948. And if you ask me, hes already in the discussion for best-ever Catholic player.
Theres a handful of four or five players Ive coached who are extra special, Catholic coach Jim Oddo said. Hes just a junior. He may run by them, but right now I wont say hes the best Ive coached, but hes right there among them.
Hood said he has 12 college offers, including Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, South Carolina and Wake Forest. He doesnt have a favorite or a short list.
Hood certainly impressed Ashbrook coach Greg Hill, who called the Catholic junior one of the best Ive seen in probably the last 10 years.
We felt like if we could get his pads turned, Hill continued, we didnt think he was as good running side to side as he is vertical hitting the holes. I was wrong. Hes a fantastic back. Hes a good kid, too. Hes just unbelievable. Its hard to judge his speed on film. Hes more than what he seems on film. Hes a great athlete. God has blessed him, I tell you that.
• In four games, West Charlotte has allowed 62 points to Concord and 76 to Independence in a tough 1-3 start. The 76 to Independence on Saturday is believed to be the most allowed by the Lions in the schools 74-year history. It matches the 76 Mallard Creek scored in a 76-30 win in 2010.
• Big statement by Butler in Saturdays 48-6 win over previously unbeaten Vance. This team is as talented as some of the best teams Mecklenburg County has produced, and if second-year coach Brian Hales can guide this group to a state championship, we can seriously debate the Bulldogs place in county history.