UNC’s Elijah Hood changes course, declares for NFL draft

Elijah Hood is entering the 2017 NFL draft after a junior season in which he ran for 858 yards and eight touchdowns.
Elijah Hood is entering the 2017 NFL draft after a junior season in which he ran for 858 yards and eight touchdowns. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Fifteen days after announcing his intention to return for his senior season at North Carolina, Elijah Hood announced that he had changed his mind and that he is making himself eligible for the 2017 NFL draft.

Hood, in a statement released by UNC, said it had been a “difficult decision.”

“But after gathering more information and talking with my family, I believe it is in my best interest to declare for the NFL Draft and pursue my dream of being a professional football player,” Hood said.

Hood, the 2013 North Carolina player of the year during his senior season at Charlotte Catholic High, leaves UNC among the most prolific running backs in school history. He ran for 2,580 yards during his three seasons, which ranks ninth. His 29 rushing touchdowns rank sixth.

Hood’s best college season came in 2015, his sophomore year. He helped lead the Tar Heels to an 11-3 finish and ran for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns. He earned first-team All-ACC honors and entered his junior season surrounded by grand expectations.

An undisclosed medical condition, though, hampered Hood throughout the season, as did a concussion that he suffered during the Tar Heels’ dramatic victory at Florida State in early October. Even so, Hood still managed to run for 858 yards (and 5.9 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns.

Hood’s medical condition kept him out of the Sun Bowl. Instead of traveling with the Tar Heels to El Paso, Texas, he remained in North Carolina. At the time, Hood said that he planned to “fully recover” and that he was looking forward to returning for his senior season.

During his three college seasons, Hood was among the Tar Heels’ leaders on offense. He will be remembered at UNC for his punishing running style and his preference to run through opposing defenders, not around them.

Hood’s playing style contrasted with his off-field commitment to service. Hood enrolled at UNC early, and during his first spring on campus completed his requirements to become an Eagle Scout. He kept his Eagle Scout identification card with him in his wallet.

“Elijah is a special individual who meant so much to this program during his time in Chapel Hill,” Larry Fedora, the UNC coach, said in a statement. “He is an excellent student, a standout football player and a first-class person who made the most of his opportunity at Carolina.

“We support his decision to further his career at the next level and wish him the best as he pursues his dream to play in the NFL. He helped change the culture in our football program and it was an honor to coach him for three seasons.”

With Hood leaving, UNC is losing its top three running backs. T.J. Logan (650 rushing yards last season) and Khris Francis (146 all-purpose yards) were both seniors last season. The only returning scholarship running back is Jordon Brown, who ran for 45 yards during his freshman season.

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter