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Wertz: Charlotte Catholic’s Elijah Hood among pantheon of Mecklenburg County football greats

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte Catholic running back Elijah Hood ended his career Friday night with 149 yards, two touchdowns and a tweet.

He congratulated Greensboro Dudley on the Panthers’ 20-15 win in the state semifinals – made possible when Dudley stopped Hood on a fourth-and-2 run at the Dudley 6 late in the game. He tweeted that he enjoyed his career and thanked everyone who had supported him.

It was a classy way for Hood to go out.

Now, I’m left to wonder about his place in history.

Hood rushed for a Mecklenburg County record 3,690 yards and a county record 53 touchdowns this season. That is the third highest touchdown total in N.C. history. The yardage ranks second in state history behind West Rowan’s Kevin Parks (3,794). And if Catholic had converted that fourth-and-2 and upset Dudley, Hood would’ve liked shattered Parks’ record next week.

Hood’s career yardage total of 8,981 ranks fourth in state history. His 147 career rushing touchdowns rank third. He leads Mecklenburg County in both categories.

But Hood’s brilliance is about more than the numbers. Lots of talented high school athletes put up eye-popping stats every year. Hood is one of six finalists (along with Davidson Day QB Will Grier) for a national player of the year award. The special ones get that type of recognition.

At 6-foot, 215 pounds, Hood is blessed with a blend of speed and power that I’ve seen only one time before from a Mecklenburg County running back, and Hood had a way of always playing his best in the biggest games, like in his final home game two weeks ago in the state quarterfinals. Hood ran for a 372 yards and six touchdowns, both career highs. That’s something Catholic fans will talk about for a long time.

Almost every game, Hood would run into a pile of defenders, seem to be stopped, and just before the officials blew the play dead, Hood was explode out of the mass of bodies and run away for a huge gain. Even though he was as big as many linemen, I never saw him get caught.

I saw a back like this once before. Brian Knuckles was a two-time Observer player of the year in 1990 and ’91 at West Charlotte. Knuckles had similar explosion, size and power. And he was even faster.

Friday, I was speaking with former West Charlotte quarterback David Green, who eventually started at Duke. He laughed as he remembered Knuckles, recalling days when Knuckles would put more than 400 pounds on a leg press and another Lions QB, Pep Hamilton – now offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts – would sit on top of the stack for extra weight.

Without question, these are the two best running backs I’ve seen, and I’ve seen some great ones like South Meck’s Steve Griffin, who led his team to a state title in 1981 and Northern Guilford’s T.J. Logan, who torched Catholic in the 2012 state championship game, and Todd Gurley, who is at Georgia now.

And in Mecklenburg County if you wanted to build a Mount Rushmore of all-time greats, start with Knuckles and Hood. For the final two busts, I’d put up a pair of Independence quarterbacks – Mark Maye, who threw for 4,000 yards in the early ’80s when most teams were still three yards and a cloud of dust, and Chris Leak, who was twice a national player of the year.

That would be a pretty good quartet of talent.

• Shelby is going to its first state championship since 2007 on a big roll. The Golden Lions have won four playoff games by these scores: 58-8, 42-20, 45-21 and 49-3 Friday over a Reidsville team that has won 18 state championships. After turning the ball over on its first two possessions, Shelby put up 49 unanswered points on the Rams in front of Reidsville’s home crowd. Back-to-back touchdown passes for Shelby QB R.J. George gave the Golden Lions a 21-3 third quarter lead. And Shelby’s defense made it stand up. For the game, Shelby’s defense limited Reidsville to 123 yards rushing, intercepted three passes and blocked a punt.

Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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