Elijah Hood can’t say exactly what was wrong with him, at least publicly, because that’s the expectation at North Carolina – players and coaches don’t often specify particular ailments. He can say this: He’s feeling well now. As well as he has all season.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be able to say,” Hood, the Tar Heels’ junior running back, said recently with a smile and a slight laugh. “But there were definitely things that kind of might have had an impact. Don’t really want to blame those.”
One was the concussion he suffered in the first half of UNC’s dramatic 37-35 victory at Florida State. He absorbed a fierce blow moments before halftime, fumbled and didn’t return. He missed UNC’s next game, against Virginia Tech, and only started to feel like himself weeks later.
Even before then an assortment of nagging injuries limited Hood. What kind?
“All kind of issues,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said, in the vague way he talks about injuries.
In a moment of openness Fedora said that before now, Hood hadn’t been close to healthy since the start of the season. It was a surprising revelation given that Fedora and his staff tried to limit Hood’s work throughout the preseason.
Back then, Hood approached the season with boundless optimism. He ran for nearly 1,500 yards during his sophomore season and averaged 6.68 yards per carry. Seventeen of his carries ended in touchdowns. Even greater things awaited at the start of this season.
And then … ?
“Yeah,” Hood said, “I ran into some problems early on, just getting banged up.”
A casual observer might not have noticed. After all, the 6-foot, 220-pound Hood averaged at least 5.9 yards per carry in each of UNC’s first three games. He ran for 106 yards on 18 carries, two of them ending in touchdowns, during the Tar Heels’ easy 56-28 victory against James Madison on Sept. 17.
Then the real trouble arrived. Hood gained but 25 yards on 11 carries in a dramatic victory against Pittsburgh. The next week, at Florida State, came the concussion. It took him a week to be cleared to return, and when he did, he ran for 31 yards on 13 carries in a victory at Miami on Oct. 15.
That three-game stretch was reminiscent of some parts of Hood’s freshman season, when injuries either limited his production or kept him off the field entirely. Finally, Hood progressed enough to contribute the way he expects during the Tar Heels’ 35-14 victory at Virginia on Oct. 22.
He gained 107 yards that Saturday – his second 100-yard game of the season. His reward? The timely arrival of UNC’s off weekend.
“I can only do what I can treatment-wise to get back healthy,” Hood said this week. “And finally we got this bye week, and I was able to really get to it, and that helped out a lot. And now my body is finally starting to turn a corner, and it’s a great thing.”
It is for Hood, at least. It might not be so great for the Tar Heels’ remaining opponents, which already had a difficult enough task preparing for UNC’s offense. Even without Hood at his best the Tar Heels, who rank 22nd nationally in yards per play, haven’t exactly been sluggish offensively.
Now that Hood is healthier the offense is likely to become even more formidable. Hood has been waiting awhile for this. It’s already November and, in some ways, he feels like he’s just getting started.
“It feels good,” he said with a laugh. “To finally be able to move the way that I want to move, and do things that I know I’m able to do, the way I’ve been able to practice and stuff. It’s been good, being out here, being healthy and being able to execute the way I’m used to.”