SNELLVILLE — Striding toward the Brookwood field house in the late September heat, Eli Kohl's curling, shoulder-length brown hair ruffles in the breeze. It pairs cooly with the white denim cutoffs and T-shirt.
“I just like doing my own thing,” Kohl said. “I like standing out.”
Until he gets on the field. Then Kohl is all about the team.
“Eli is a warrior,” head coach Philip Jones said. “He's a competitor. I think that's always defined who he is. He is going to fight and give everything he's got every time he gets a chance. That's with or without the ball.
“What drives him is he loves his teammates and wants to do the best he can to see them be successful.”
Kohl's success is fueled by powerful legs — he squats 515 pounds — and a combative approach to running.
“When I'm hitting somebody and I know they're like, 'Dang,' I know I'm coming for your throat again the next play and it's going to be even better,” Kohl said, a grin spreading across his face. “I do enjoy that. A lot.
“I'm not going down on the first hit.”
The senior has rushed for 605 yards and five touchdowns on 91 carries over five games this season — all while laboring through two lower-body injuries. The Broncos had a bye this week.
“Right now there's really nothing I can do but push through,” Kohl said. “Either that or just stop. I either deal with the pain and push through for my teammates or just shut it down. I feel like if I did that, I'd be giving up on my players. I don't want to do that.”
Becoming Brookwood's featured back has been an uphill road on its own. Kohl was behind Dante Black, now at Connecticut, and then, last year, split time with Chris Carter. Kohl finished with 844 yards as a junior, on 112 carries, with eight TDs.
“I remember sitting behind Dante for a little while,” he said. “That was tough because I'm not used to sitting behind someone, but it was also humbling. Watching him, I learned a lot of things, a lot of footwork, that made me a better football player. I do think I've gotten better over the years for sure.”
Kohl has never played any other sports. He found football at 6 and his devotion hasn't wavered. He did play a bit at linebacker and safety, even briefly at quarterback in the GFL, but was always the featured running back. That changed when he arrived at Brookwood.
“You get to high school and you're like, 'OK, I'm not necessarily the man anymore,' so you've got to go out there and show them you can be,” Kohl said. “I love competition.”
His haircut, too, changed before he got to high school.
“When I was first playing football, 6 years old until I was 8, I had super long hair,” Kohl said. “I cut it to a little shorter than this, but it was still long. Right around eighth grade, ninth grade, I cut it short short. Like a normal haircut.
“Senior year, I came in with long hair and I wanted to leave Brookwood with long hair.”
It flows from underneath his helmet as he bulldozes through defensive lines on Friday nights.
“Where he really has the most success is running between the tackles,” Jones said. “His explosiveness, his power, where he really thrives is as the A to B gap, downhill runner.
“He's fast enough to get to the edge, but his strength and tenacity and yards after contact all lend itself to more of a bruising running style.”
Kohl is quick to credit his offensive line, many of whom he's played with for a decade.
“The whole game starts with them,' he said. “Anytime anyone says 'Good job, Eli,' it's the line first and foremost.
“I've been with Sean (Hill), Aidan (Perkins) and Quincy (Jenkins) since I was about 7. I've been running behind them for a long time. Matthew (Provence), too. I love every single one of them. Those are guys I call my brothers.”
That line sets the table not just for Kohl, but for a more balanced attack than the Broncos were known for when Jones was a student-athlete.
“We want to win up front at the line of scrimmage,” Jones said. “When I played here at Brookwood, we won the state championship and in five (playoff) games threw 16 passes. That's a true story. You can't really play that type of game anymore. That style of football is a thing of the past. We definitely want balance, but we have an identity and we want to establish the line of scrimmage first and foremost. Everything we do comes off of that.
“We want to be the bully first. We've got a really good offensive line this year. When we get Eli going in a rhythm, it seems that everything else works off of that. Our passing game opens up.”
Another thing changed when Jones took over as head coach.
“We had all these hair and earring rules,” he said. “When I got the job, it's kind of old-school thinking.”
Fortunately for Kohl and his standout coiffe.