CHARLOTTE – Elijah Holyfield doesn’t sound bitter or angry.
After going undrafted, the former Georgia running back and son of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield has his eyes on what’s ahead.
“Not getting drafted, it’s something I try not to think about,” Holyfield said. “I hoped that I would be, but I quickly realized I needed to move on. At the end of the day, all I need is an opportunity and I’m glad the Panthers gave me one.
“I still feel that I’m a very good football player.”
Holyfield is one of four undrafted additions set to participate in Carolina’s rookie minicamp this weekend. This is where he wanted to be.
Sure, every prospect dreams of hearing his name called during the draft, but going undrafted gave Holyfield the chance to be choosy as a free agent.
“I liked Carolina from the beginning and always thought it would be a good destination for me,” he said. “They wanted me, so it worked out. I felt like they wanted me the most, and I liked the situation.”
Holyfield is from College Park, Ga., so this gives him a chance to be close to home. It also gives him a chance to play with one of his idols.
“Being from Atlanta,” Holyfield said, “I’ve looked up to Cam Newton my whole life.”
Holyfield said he was also drawn to the idea of teaming up with running back Christian McCaffrey, who is fresh off a monster 2018 season as Carolina’s do-it-all playmaker.
Holyfield, at 5-foot-10 and 217 pounds, is a physical runner with a punishing style to go along with quick feet. He hopes to be a complement to McCaffrey, but there is competition for that role. Capable veteran Cameron Artis-Payne has waited patiently for opportunities and the Panthers drafted former Florida running back Jordan Scarlett in the fifth round – another physical, downhill runner.
“Competition was what we lived in at Georgia,” said Holyfield, who had to wait his turn behind Sony Michel (a Patriots’ draft choice) and Nick Chubb (a Browns’ draft choice) before becoming a starter in 2018. “It’s nothing new for me. I’m looking forward to it.”
More than anything, Holyfield is looking forward to getting back on the field and carrying the football.
The pre-draft process was a challenging one, especially after his combine performance. Holyfield ran a 4.78 40-yard dash, an eye-popping time for the wrong reason. That number was clearly tough to overcome as teams set up their draft boards.
“It was a little rough at first. I didn’t realize how big of a deal people were going to make it out to be,” Holyfield said of reaction to his 40 time. “I’m over it now. I’m on a team. After I get to play, I don’t think anybody will remember it.”
And while many were focused on what Holyfield can’t do, we can’t forget about the things he can do.
Allow Georgia head coach Kirby Smart to weigh in.
“In the NFL, defenses set the edges the right way consistently. The run fits are right all the time, so you're not going to see a lot of breakaways anyway,” Smart told NFL.com. “It's the guy who can get the 4- and 5-yard runs consistently who plays. Elijah's not a run-away-from-the-defense guy, but he'll get positive yards again and again.”
Holyfield, when pressed on the subject, admitted the undrafted label provides “a little extra motivation.”
Holyfield’s trainer provided some evidence of that, posting a video on Twitter of Holyfield performing 254 reps of floor glute ham raises – one for every player picked instead of him in the draft.
And his famous father offered some words of wisdom before his NFL career gets underway.
“More than anything, he tells me you can’t let what other people say affect you,” Holyfield said. “You know what you can do. Now you have to go out there and do it.”
VIew photos of Carolina's four undrafted additions: running back Eliah Holyfield, safety Corrion Ballard, linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk and wide receiver Damion Jeanpiere Jr.