When the phone call came that would inform running back Elijah Hood he was headed back across the country to his hometown team, the former UNC and Charlotte Catholic star missed it.
He was napping.
Catching up on some sleep following the Oakland Raiders’ rookie minicamp, Hood woke up mid-afternoon Tuesday to “a thousand messages and missed calls” on his cell.
So Hood did what any millennial would do under those circumstances: He checked Twitter.
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“I see I’m trending on there. I’m like, ‘What’s this?’ I click on it and it’s like, ‘Elijah Hood signed by the Carolina Panthers,’” Hood said, smiling. “I’m like, wait a minute, this is real?’”
Hood called his agent, who confirmed the news was, in fact, real: The Panthers had claimed Hood off waivers from Oakland.
He was going home.
Back to the city where he’d first caught Panthers general manager Marty Hurney’s eye as a middle-schooler.
Back to the state where he’d finished in the top 10 on the Tar Heels’ career list in both rushing (2,580 yards, ninth all-time) and rushing touchdowns (29, sixth).
On to the team he grew up rooting for as a kid in Charlotte.
Hood was still trying to process the move Friday following the first of three practices over the Panthers’ rookie minicamp.
“It’s still a little surreal. It makes you walk a little bit lighter just walking around. It’s kind of a dreamlike experience walking around in this blue (jersey),” Hood said. “Growing up when I said I wanted to be a pro football player, I said that watching the Carolina Panthers run down the field tackling people.”
Hood did not misspeak when talking about tackling.
When naming his favorite Panthers players from his youth, he first mentioned three defensive players (Mike Minter, Dan Morgan, Jon Beason) before getting around to a running back (DeAngelo Williams).
'I like to hit stuff'
It seems Hood is a running back with a defensive mentality.
“I thought of myself as a linebacker, honestly. I liked to hit stuff,” he said. “I figured those (Panthers defensive) guys hit the hardest.”
Hood had a good, hard-hitting mentor in Oakland in Marshawn Lynch, the bruise-making back known as Beast Mode.
Hood, the Raiders’ seventh-round pick last year, was active for only one game as a rookie — a Week 8 loss to Buffalo when Lynch was suspended. Hood spent most of the season on the Raiders’ practice squad while keeping an eye on Lynch’s “rhinoceros” running style.
“He’s a wild card,” Hood said of Lynch. “Some days he might ride in on a bike. Who knows? It was definitely a lot of fun.”
It was not so much fun for the guys trying to tackle Lynch.
“I’ve still yet to see another running back just straight truck a 300-pound, All-Pro D-tackle, and just take the soul out of a team,” Hood said. “That’s motivating. That’s inspiring. We get up and the other team goes down when things like that happen. It might be a 6-yard run, but you just trucked their All-Pro D-tackle.”
Classic downhill runner
The 5-11, 230-pound Hood sees a little of himself in Lynch. While Hood lacks game-breaking speed and elusiveness, he is a classic downhill runner who likes lowering his shoulder and trying to plow through defenders.
Hood said some Panthers’ staffers said they watched him play in high school and recalled how he “ran over their son or their son’s friend.”
But Hood says there’s more to his game than bulldozing.
“I think I can do other things well. I can catch the ball. I can definitely pass (protect). And I think the Panthers saw that and they want to incorporate me into the offense,” Hood said. “Shoot, I’ll run block. I’ll do whatever.”
Hurney, whose son played with Hood at Catholic, says Hood has other attributes besides emulating Beast Mode.
“I’ve seen Elijah since he was in seventh grade playing, and he’s always been the best player on the field. I obviously got to know him. He’s a great kid. Football’s very important to him,” Hurney said. “He’s got the size at the running back position. I think he’s got deceptive speed. He’s an extremely smart football player. I think that he fits what we do extremely well.”
Competition lines up
Hood will likely start out on the depth chart behind the recently acquired C.J. Anderson and Cameron Artis-Payne among the team’s between-the-tackles backs. The Panthers lost a running back for the season this week when Fozzy Whittaker tore his ACL, although they brought back Kenjon Barner the next day to fill Whittaker’s role.
Hood, who still has a Panthers comforter in storage, was too busy soaking in the moment Friday to worry about his long-term outlook on the roster.
“God works in mysterious ways,” he said. “I got sent across the country (to Oakland) to get sent back home. I never really liked to leave home much anyway, I guess. That’s why I ended up at North Carolina. I guess I’m where I’m supposed to be.”