Mountain Island Charter football coach Robert Washington said running back Elijah Burris has rare gifts.
“A kid that size,” Washington said, “you think he’s a power back but he can do the scat-back thing. He changes directions at the drop of a dime. His vision is remarkable, just reading holes. He sees stuff developing and that’s the sign of a good running back, when you can see things develop.”
Burris, who has committed to UNC, ran for 2,832 yards as a junior, among the top 25 performances nationally in 2018. He’ll begin his senior season needing about 400 yards to break the Gaston County career rushing record and about 1,600 to enter the top 10 all-time in N.C. history. Burris has 5,284 career rushing yards and 64 touchdowns.
But Burris has two even bigger goals this season: he wants to lead his school to its fourth straight winning season and its first championship berth; and he wants to quiet any doubt that he’s big enough — and good enough — to be a star at North Carolina.
“I do this for my family,” he said. “I always have a chip on my shoulder when I put my helmet on. I know people doubt me. I don’t pay attention to that. It’s people talking. Put me against anybody, I’ll still do good.”
Burris is listed at 5-foot-9 and 210 pounds. He appears several inches shorter in person. But he’s got a powerful build, and a powerful resume.
In middle school, he ran for 2,375 yards in two years, the third-most ever by a Gaston County player. He entered the lottery to attend Mountain Island before his freshman year, and told reporters he was considering moving to Rock Hill with his family and attending S.C. powerhouse Northwestern if he didn’t get in.
Burris got into Mountain Island and had an immediate impact.
The Raptors were 6-6 in 2015, the year before he arrived. In 2016, Burris ran for 902 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging more than eight yards per carry. Mountain Island finished 10-4.
Burris averaged 10.1 yards per carry as a sophomore and a ridiculous 14.6 yards per attempt last season, when he easily could’ve gone over 3,000 yards. Washington, though, sat him in the second half or fourth quarter of at least four blowout wins.
“He’s going to be the best-kept secret for Chapel Hill,” Washington said. “He’s a 3-star recruit right now, and in the college world, they consider that big. But Elijah is special. He has 5-star talent. I think he’ll shock a lot of people.”
Washington said once the Tar Heels offered Burris last year, he stopped his recruitment. When coaches came on campus last spring and would ask about his running back, Washington said Burris stood firm
“Elijah doesn’t seek the attention,” Washington said. “He’s not trying to go out and pick up offers. Once Carolina offered him, he was sold on Carolina. ... (Coaches from other schools) would ask about Elijah and he’s like, ‘I’m not interested. I’m not going to call coach back. I’m not going to your camp. I’m not visiting your school.’
“So actually, Elijah could’ve blown up, but he found the school where he wanted to go. He stayed loyal to his commitment.”
And now, Burris said he’s laser focused on what he hopes is a memorable senior year. He’s one of 18 starters and 25 lettermen back from a 1A playoff team last season.
“My biggest goal is to get over 1,000 yards and help my team get to a state championship,” he said. “No one thinks a charter school can get there, that we’re not good athletically. That’s what they think.
“We’re out to change that.”
▪ The Observer continues its high school football previews at charlotteobserver.com/sports/high-school with a preseason all-Gaston County team and a team preview for all the schools in the county.