Attend a high school football practice, and one player always will stand out. Regardless of position, he’ll be the best player on the field. You know he’s going to star in college, and you can envision him in the NFL.
At Charlotte Catholic, that player was Elijah Hood.
Hood, who is 5-11 and 230 pounds, ran like a linebacker. That’s a compliment. Even when he stood still, there was nobody on defense – and Catholic had a good defense – that looked capable of tackling him. He was powerful and fast enough and adept at anticipating openings before they had fully developed.
The Oakland Raiders waived Hood Tuesday, and the Carolina Panthers claimed him.
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Hood rushed for 3,000 yards as a junior, then again as a senior at Catholic, and scored 147 touchdowns in his career there. One of the best running backs in the country, Hood initially committed to Notre Dame but instead chose North Carolina. He was first-team all-ACC in 2015, third-team all-ACC a season later.
The Oakland Raiders drafted him in the seventh round in 2017, and until Tuesday he had not been heard from since.
We’ve all seen basketball players who run their high school’s offense, hit from the outside and go to the hoop. We know we’re going to see them star for their college teams and make the NBA.
We’ve all seen high school shortstops that never let a ground ball past them, get on base via hit or walk and steal a base when their team needs it. We know we’re going to see them star for their college team and play in the major leagues.
Some of us have seen Golden Glove boxers that dazzle and jab and hit without being hit. We know that we’re going to see them in a closed-circuit fight for which we pay close to $100 to watch.
About Hood, there was no doubt. Yes, I’m Catholic, but I’m not that Catholic. There’s a quality some athletes have that removes them from the pack, and Hood had it.
In Oakland, Hood was a helper, mostly a member of the practice squad although he did play occasionally on special teams. The Raiders waived him three times, and called him back twice.
Hood ran a 4.5 40 before the 2017 draft, so he’s not going to outrun defenses. The backs that dazzle and dance and make defenders miss, that’s not Hood, either.
He is who he was at Catholic, albeit with faster defenders in his way. Hood’s role will be to scatter defenders and pick up a few yards, and sometimes a few more, inside.
His real role will be to make the Carolina roster. There are six running backs on it, including C.J. Anderson, the free agent who averaged 4.39 yards the past five seasons with the Denver Broncos, and signed this week
The odds, obviously, are against Hood. But he still runs like a linebacker. And that’s still a compliment.