In the weeks leading up to UNC’s loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl, it was announced that junior tailback Elijah Hood would miss the game due to an unspecified medical condition–but also that Hood would be returning for his senior year in Chapel Hill.

On Friday, however, the Charlotte native announced he will be entering the NFL Draft.

“This was 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, in a statement released by the university.  “While I’ll miss playing with my teammates in Chapel Hill, I’m excited about my future opportunity.  I would like to thank Coach Fedora, the coaching staff and all Carolina fans for understanding how difficult it was to come to this decision.

This program is on the rise because of the great people at UNC,” he continued. “I’m going to continue to pursue my degree from UNC and I’m proud to say I will always be a Tar Heel.”

Hood was a First Team All-ACC performer in 2015, and made Third Team All-ACC in 2016 despite nagging injuries that plagued him all year. (Smith Cameron Photography)

Hood–known for his bruising running style–battled nagging injuries for most of 2016, but still ended up on the Third Team All-ACC roster with 858 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. This came a year after made First Team All-ACC thanks to the second-most prolific rushing season in school-history as a sophomore–posting 1,463 yards and 17 scores as the Tar Heels rolled to an 11-3 record.

Hood is an Eagle Scout and was named Academic All-ACC in each of his first two years on campus.

His departure leaves a gaping hole in the Tar Heel backfield, as he will join graduating senior T.J. Logan as the second UNC tailback who could potentially be drafted this spring.

A glimpse of the future may have been provided when freshman Jordon Brown barreled his way into the endzone for a second-half touchdown against Stanford, but there’s never a guarantee that a player as talented as Hood can be easily replaced.

“Elijah is a special individual who meant so much to this program during his time in Chapel Hill,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said.  “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,” the coach added. “He helped change the culture in our football program and it was an honor to coach him for three seasons.”