ATHENS — Elijah Holyfield has officially retired.
From boxing, that is.
“Oh, no. Heck, no!” Holyfield said Tuesday of a possible return to boxing, which he last did competitively as a middle schooler. “I’ve been out of it too long, and I wouldn’t want to go in there and get hit again. I don’t want to get punched anymore. I get hit enough running.”
That would be running with a football. And he’s going to stick with that a bit longer.
In fact, Holyfield’s football career is just beginning to take off, in college anyway. At least it looks that way as the Georgia Bulldogs move toward the end of spring practice in Holyfield’s third year. All signs are point to the rising junior from College Park with the famous last name being Georgia’s primary ball carrier when G-Day kicks off this Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN, News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB).
In a position largely defined by the “survival-of-the-fittest” model, Holyfield has both survived and proved the most fit this spring. As the Bulldogs prepare to play before an estimated crowd of 78,000 at Saturday, Holyfield is the odds-0n favorite to play the role of Georgia’s No. 1 tailback. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have moved on, of course, and heir apparent D’Andre Swift is slightly gimpy with a groin injury.
But Holyfield might’ve been the man anyway. In fact, that’s exactly what some of his teammates were saying about him on Tuesday.
“That’s a man right there,” said defensive end David Marshall, who gets to tackle Holyfield almost every practice. “I love how he practices, I love how he comes hard every play. I’ve never seen him slacking, ever.”
Holyfield and fellow junior Brian Herrien have managed to stay healthy while getting the majority of repetitions in Georgia’s considerable running back corps this spring. Ballyhooed freshman signee Zamir “Zeus” White is running drills but has not been cleared for contact while recovering from December knee surgery. Fellow blue-chip recruit James Cook hasn’t arrived yet. Georgia also has a small selection of walk-ons at running back, including sophomores Prather Hudson and Ian Donald-McIntyre.
But Holyfield has created the buzz in camp. Not only does he look physically imposing, he has been playing a high level, as well.
“He’s a physical, tough guy, one of my favorite competitors out there,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said last week. “He’s got to pass protect better. He’s got to work on it, and that’s been a big emphasis for him. But I’m excited to see where he goes. He’s had some really good, tough runs this spring.”
Holyfield’s opportunities to show his stuff have been very limited since he signed with the Bulldogs out of Atlanta’s Woodward Academy. Playing a mop-up role behind Chubb and Michel the last two seasons, he has only 56 career rushing attempts for 322 yards.
But he has averaged 5.8 yards on those carries and recorded 2 touchdowns. Both of them were impressive, but especially the 39-yarder early in the fourth quarter against Florida last October. He capped it off with a Superman dive into the end zone.
“Breaking that was really a confidence builder for me to know I can play on this level,” Holyfield said.
Holyfield, who is listed at 5-foot-11, 217 pounds, is known as a strong, tough runner. But that play and the 90-yard kickoff return against Notre Dame that was nullified by a holding penalty demonstrated that he also has speed and some moves.
But Holyfield is exceptionally strong and works hard to be that way. He doesn’t mind telling people that he can hang with Chubb when it comes to pumping iron.
“I try to do what he could do,” Holyfield said. “I look at his numbers and try to get to those.”
Asked if he matched any, Holyfield said, “Oh, yeah. Ask Chubb” — but he withheld details.
Doesn’t matter. Playing running back is all about performing on the field. And while Saturday won’t be a sanctioned college football game, Holyfield’s excited to show Georgia fans what he has to offer in 2018.
“I’m looking forward to G-Day and running the ball in front of a lot of people,” Holyfield said. “As I get the ball more I think everybody will see all the things I can do.”
At one time, Holyfield was known as that Atlanta running back who looks strikingly similar to his famous father, world heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield. But his goal is to be known as an exceptional football player by his own right. And he’s working hard to make it happen.
“It’s not really a shadow,” he said of his father’s fame. “If it is, it’s just motivation to get out of it.”