ATLANTA (AP) — Elijah Holyfield doesn’t shy away from contact, has great balance and is hard to bring down.
The high school running back inherited those traits from his father, five-time boxing champion Evander Holyfield. Now, colleges from Ohio State to Georgia are taking notice, especially after the young Holyfield opened this season with a seven-touchdown game.
Only a junior at Woodward Academy, Elijah (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) is emerging as a major national recruit at the Atlanta private school. He already has at least 25 offers. He is rated by Rivals.com as the No. 6 running back in the 2016 class and is No. 32 in Scout.com’s ranking.
Evander beamed when talking about his son’s success.
“I’m excited about it,” Evander said. “I realize, with generations, it’s one thing what you did, but how do you inspire your kids to take it to another level? Boxing was my thing but I love football. As my son will tell you, I love football more than boxing. At that time as a kid, I was small, and nobody would give me an opportunity. They gave him an opportunity and he has shown he can do this.”
Elijah said he is motivated to earn respect for more than his last name.
“It’s one of those things where I feel I have to prove myself even more because people say it’s just because of my name that I’m going to get the attention,” Elijah said. “I just think my name is just like a place that people can see me, and once they see me they see what I can really do.”
The young Holyfield is proving through his play that, just like his dad, he’s the real deal.
Woodward Academy coach John Hunt said Elijah stands out due to “just the strength of how he runs.”
“Sometimes he almost searches out contact,” Hunt said. “He’s got really good speed and for someone only 200 pounds, he plays very big, a very physical runner. I think he enjoys that. Maybe that was something he got from his father, I don’t know. But he certainly doesn’t shy away from contact.”
Chad Simmons, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com and Fox Sports, also has been impressed by Holyfield’s tough runs.
“He runs with good balance and he is a back that can get those yards after contact coaches covet on the next level,” Simmons said. “He runs with a good center of gravity, he bounces off would-be tacklers, and he is someone who shows good durability.”
Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell said Holyfield “has good size, exceptional vision and runs hard first to last quarter. His upside is impressive and work ethic is off the charts.”
Evander attends most of his son’s games, sometimes standing on the sideline to avoid attracting attention in the stands.
“I am happy for him and I realize that it brings pressure,” Evander said. “The higher you get, you’ve got more people looking at you. You have to make the adjustment that’s necessary. I tell him, you’re 16 years old, don’t panic. We all make mistakes but you can’t let that bring you down.”
Elijah has 810 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, leading Woodard Academy to a 4-1 record. He also has two touchdowns on returns and two TD receptions.
Every game brings a different college coach to town. He says coaches from Auburn, Oregon, Georgia and Tennessee have visited this year.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” he said.
Growing up as the son of one of the world’s most famous athletes has given the young Holyfield a guide for handling attention that may continue to grow.
“I think it helps me a lot,” he said. “I noticed no matter where we are, sometimes in public places like Six Flags or a game, so many people ask for pictures and he’ll sit down and take pictures with everyone. I would ask him `Don’t you ever get tired of that?’ He was like `It’s part of my job to be nice to those people.'”
Elijah participated in boxing and football until the eighth grade. He said he was “really good” in boxing but chose to focus on football.
“My dad always said you can do everything but you can only be the best in one thing,” he said.
Elijah said he is the most proud of his father’s fights that lasted 15 rounds. “I think those were always the testament to how hard he worked,” he said.
He’s tried to follow his father’s example by training harder after a foot injury limited him last year.
“Actually when I was younger he and I used to run together sometimes,” Elijah said. “He used to always beat me. Now he won’t dare try to run with me. It was real cool to see how hard he worked, even when he was on top.
“I think it helps me now to know if he never stopped working, then I know I can’t stop working.”