If you haven’t read my story on Elijah Hood, the North Carolina junior running back, then go and change that. It’s one of the more interesting I’ve written recently, about Hood’s journey to become an Eagle Scout, and about how that journey has influenced other parts of his life.
Hood is a man of contrasts. We all are, in our own ways, but in Hood’s case they’re more defined, more stark. He’s committed to the ideals of service and helping people. And yet, on a football field, he’s also committed to punishing anyone who stands in his way.
Last year, during his memorable sophomore season, Hood delivered a line that has endured. It summed up his confidence, for one, and in some ways it reflected how he approaches his sport: “You going to bring me down,” Hood said then, “You better bring your buddies.”
During a recent interview with Hood, one that provided the basis for the story about his Eagle Scout roots, I asked him about the thought behind that quote, and about a number of other things: Why he plays the way he does, what it feels like to run through an opponent, whether he feels the pain of the collision.
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Hood enters his junior season at UNC an All-American candidate who with another stellar season could take his place alongside some of the great running backs in school history. Here’s a portion of the interview:
Andrew Carter: That answer you gave at one point last season stuck with me – the ‘if you’re going to tackle me you better bring your buddies’ line. What’s at the root of that, the belief that you can’t easily be brought down, this desire to run through people?
Elijah Hood: Honestly, I actually think it’s love. … (long pause) … I mean, I love playing football. I love my team. I love my community, I love my city, love my state. So what’s the greatest way to show you love something than to sacrifice for it? I sacrifice my body for my team, and they do the same for me. When I think of what Jesus did, he sacrificed his life. I can sacrifice a shoulder.
AC: You really seem to enjoy the contact, though. Why?
EH: The pain of love. Love is painful. It is.
AC: At times you can go around a guy instead of through him, no?
EH: I can start working on it a little bit, maybe. It’s just the way the game is. It’s a game of physical, controlled violence. So why not embrace football for what football is?
AC: Here’s a hypothetical. You’re in the open field, running up the sideline. There’s a cornerback angling toward you 10 yards away, a safety coming over from the other side. You could go out of bounds --
AC: Out of bounds is an option.
EH: No. I’m running at him. Because there’s a chance that he’s going to miss that tackle. And if I break that tackle, I score, too. Why limit your opportunities? I’m not trying to be the one getting hit. I’m trying to give the hit.
AC: Do you really feel them, in the moment – these hits you deliver?
EH: The next day.
AC: What about then, as it happens?
EH: I mean, sometimes. But that’s the way it is. That’s football. It’ll hurt for like a second, three seconds. But I don’t know. Maybe I’m a little crazy.
AC: Maybe you have to play the game at a certain level to understand it.
EH: I mean, I don’t know. I like to run into people.
AC: Have you always been this way?
EH: I think it’s become more materialized over time. I didn’t realize it as a kid, but I think the more I’ve matured the more I’ve realized it – that I really do (have the ability), I could just run into people.
AC: Most people will never experience what it’s like to run through somebody.
EH: The satisfaction of running over someone is very interesting.
AC: What’s it feel like?
EH: You can’t describe it. It’s just dominance – at the base of it – I don’t know. I’m a competitor. Dominance, at the base of it. I don’t like to be tackled.
AC: Do you hear the noise of the collision – are the senses heightened?
EH: Yeah, you can hear something – the adrenaline is going. I mean, that’s also true. When you’re playing, all that adrenaline and everything that you’ve got going, you don’t really feel the pain that much, unless it’s really bad. If it’s hurting that bad, then you’ve probably got something wrong. But usually you don’t feel it until after, until the next day. And then you’re kind of like, ‘Ow.’
AC: Can you hear the other guy moaning?
EH: Oh, yeah – that’s the best. If you hear the other team’s complaining, I’m running harder now. Yes. Because they’re definitely hurting.
AC: Do you have a favorite collision during your time at UNC?
EH: My best, my favorite one so far, I think, was my freshman year, Liberty game. When I ran through that one guy. First game of the year. That’s one of my first carries. That was a good one. Ran right through that dude, and he did a flip on the ground.
AC: Do you ever wonder if the other guy is OK or say, ‘Hey man, sorry -- I hit you because I love this?’
EH: I mean, it’s a mutual agreement. We’re on the football field right now – you hit me as hard as you can, I hit you as hard as I can and whatever happens, happens. Sometimes I spin off it, sometimes you get me.
AC: Have you ever been gotten really good?
EH: I don’t know about in a game, particularly yet, but in practice I’m sure. Guys have gotten me all the time in practice.
AC: In practice, among your teammates now who among them is the most difficult guy to run through?
EH: Last year, Shakeel Rashad was a brick wall. You can’t run through that dude. (Laughs.) Impossible. It’s a brick wall. This year – Andre Smith, too. Dre is a stud. ... Cayson (Collins) is pretty hard to get around a lot of the time. He’s just really athletic, and fast and strong. Cole (Holcomb) is, too. But the worst is when they blitz. That’s when they usually – they kind of get me sometimes. It’s not usually ever when I’m running, but when they blitz they’ll get me because I’m sitting still, kind of, sometimes. Or if I see it late, and they’re already right there, they can just earhole you.
AC: You’re probably as strong as you’ve ever been. A fair assessment?
EH: I don’t know. I just go as hard as I can, and every time. Ask the strength coaches. Sometimes they tell me I need to slow down (in the weight room).
AC: I see the workout videos sometimes on social media – do you have a favorite exercise?
EH: Oh, my favorite exercise to do is definitely the squat. Just because I’m the squat king.
AC: How much can you squat right now?
EH: The board says 635 right now. But one time – sometime earlier this year I think I did like, what was it, seven plates on each side. I don’t even know.
AC: Well how much room on the bar for plates is there?
EH: There was no more room. There was like this much space on the bar left.
AC: So that’s basically the max you can squat?
EH: I mean, you can do more. You can switch out the 45s for 100s.
AC: Aren’t you worried about the bar snapping in half?
EH: That ain’t my problem.
AC: What else haven’t I asked? Anything you’d like to add?
EH: I’m a really nice person.