T.J. Logan was the Associated Press Player of the Year in North Carolina in 2012. He led the Northern Guilford Nighthawks to the Class 3AA title. In the state championship game, he rushed for 510 yards and eight touchdowns, setting NCHSAA records.
Elijah Hood was the Associated Press Player of the Year in North Carolina in 2013. He led the Charlotte Catholic Cougars to the Class 3AA semifinal in 2012 and the 4A West Regional final in 2013. His 8,981 career yards are the best in Mecklenburg County history.
Both record-setting running backs were considered among the nation’s best out of high school, and now, both can be found in the Tar Heel backfield. Logan missed the first four games of his freshman season with a knee injury but rushed for 533 yards and four scores and had two kickoff return touchdowns in nine games. Hood enrolled in January - after playing in the U.S. Army All-American game - and joins a group that includes Logan, junior Romar Morris (296 rushing yards, five touchdowns) sophomore Khris Francis (236, one touchdown rushing, one receiving) and sophomore walk-on Charles Brunson (61 rushing yards). There’s a bounty of riches in the Tar Heel running backs room.
“I think it’s going to be good,” Logan says. “Competition is always good. It’s going to be a committee of running backs this year, kind of like it was last year. I feel like it’s going to be good.”
Hood says he enrolled early because he thought doing so would help the team and himself. “I thought it would give me a good edge and get me into the workouts and learning the playbook before the summer,” he says. “I thought it would be beneficial to get used to balancing college academics and college football, get a head start on that, and also get some credits.”
Logan and Hood played in two different styles of offense before coming to Carolina. Logan’s Nighthawks used a zone blocking scheme and had some of the same qualities as the Tar Heel spread while Hood piled up yards in Charlotte Catholic’s triple-option offense similar to that of Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech. In committing to Carolina, both saw opportunities for carries and the chance to get into the open field. “I knew this was going to be the spread, I was going to have the chance to get out there and just be the one back, not be in an I-formation all the time,” Logan said. “I was running zone in high school, so I felt like my game kind of fit that. That’s the main reason I decided to come.”
Meanwhile, Hood opted to diversify his game by embracing an offensive philosophy totally different from the one his high school team employed. “Just focusing on what you do well won’t make you a better football player,” he says. “I think you need to take what you’re not good at and try to make that your best talent. I think it was good for me to expand from that triple option to a spread. It’s definitely going to help my skill set because I think I’ll carry that experience from the triple option and the spread, and I’ll just be able to combine both and I think that can be something really good, because I have experience running hard and tough but also now I get out here and have some open space to work with.”
That open space will come because of the play calling, but also because of the improvement along the Tar Heel offensive line. A young group matured over the course of the 2013 season, and though James Hurst and Russell Bodine won’t return, the steady improvement should continue. “The line only gets better with time together,” Logan says. “It’s going to be good for them to be together this early.” True freshman tackle Bentley Spain has a chance to compete for playing time; he bested sophomore bandit Mikey Bart in a tire pull exercise this spring to the surprise of his teammates. “He’s definitely strong,” Logan says.
Despite their similar résumés, Logan and Hood bring different running styles to the Tar Heel attack. In fact, they say each of the Carolina backs has an attribute that will demand playing time. “The biggest difference for me compared to the other guys is, I’m 220 pounds,” Hood says. “They needed that in some games where they needed that one or two yards when they got into goal-line situations. I think I can be that bigger guy and push the pile.
“But each guy has their own thing that they can do really well,” he continues. “Obviously T.J. and Romar are the real fast, explosive guys. Khris has a really good skill set all around and I just think we all complement each other real well. We can get a lot out of each one of us as a different tool and keep the defenses thinking. We can switch it up on them real fast.”
Logan has been working on adding weight in an attempt to get up to 200 pounds (from 180). “Coach Lou (Hernandez) says anytime that doesn’t feel good, he’ll always be able to drop me down, so we’re going to have to see what it feels like.”
Carolina lost the elder statesman of the running back room, A.J. Blue, to graduation, and Logan says the leadership mantle has been passed to Morris. “Romar is the dude we call the C.E.O.,” he says. “He’s leading us, and we’re just trying to follow in his footsteps.”
The group will be led by new running backs coach Larry Porter, who joined Fedora’s staff after stints at Memphis and Texas. “He’s a cool dude so far,” Logan says of Porter. Hood appreciates that he and Porter are in their first year together.
“He’s learning the offense with me in a way, so we’re kind of working with each other on that, and it’s OK, because he knows I’m going to make mistakes. I’m just trying to learn the offense, so he’s being really lenient on me. I think it’s a good transition.”
Both Logan and Hood are expecting big things out of these 15 spring practices and hope to raise the level of play heading into the fall. Logan was a part of a freshman class that began to carry the team late in 2013, and he says there’s more where that came from.
It’s definitely going to be fun, because people are going to get to see a whole bunch of new people that didn’t get to play but definitely have something to prove this year,” he says. “I feel like all of us have something to prove. It’s going to be a great football season. We’re definitely going to raise the bar.”
In his first season, Hood is more measured in his expectations for the end of spring. “I’d like to be able to just be usable. I need to know the plays and learn the signals so at this point I’m just getting used to it,” he says. “I just want to be able to say I can go out there and I can play the game and I won’t be hurting the team. I want to be able to contribute. I want to know what I need to do I want to be able to do my assignments, and after that i can focus on making other people better and trying to take the team to the next level.”
As part of an extremely talented group of running backs in a potent offense, Hood and Logan will have every chance to do just that.