Whether it was making tackles or carrying the ball, Lincoln football fans heard Elijah Hovland’s name a lot over the past two seasons. Hovland hopes to make a similar impact collegiately.
With family, coaches, and many of his teammates in attendance on Thursday, Hovland signed to continue his football and academic careers at Olivet Nazarene University.
Hovland emerged as a play-making linebacker early in his junior season for the Alices. He continued to wreak havoc defensively as a senior last fall, but he also took on the role of lead running back, nearly reaching 1,000 yards, and still improving his defensive totals despite having more responsibilities.
Hovland won’t be asked to do near as much at Olivet. In fact, he’s being recruited as a slot receiver, a position he played at times as a junior. Alices coach Levi Salters said Hovland should have a chance to contribute on special teams right away and added that he believed Hovland has the defensive skill set to eventually be a safety for the Tigers.
But those decisions will be made by the Olivet coaching staff at a later date. On Thursday Hovland was just happy to have his college decision made.
“It’s the next step in my future. I’m looking forward to playing in college. It’ll be fun,” he said. “(Olivet) just had a good atmosphere from my visits I went on up there. They seem to have a really good football program, and it seemed like a good choice.
“I was thinking about maybe going to Purdue, though I wouldn’t have played football. And I looked at some other small schools. But Olivet caught my eye. My sister (Jayda) goes there, so that was kind of a big part of it too.”
Hovland was a two-time Sun-Commercial all-area football selection, and he was a second-team all-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference defensive selection.
As a junior, Hovland was third on the team in total tackles, racking up 37 solos and 37 assists, including seven for a loss and a forced fumble. Last August, when junior running back Jackson Johnson went down with a knee injury during the pre-game of the season opener, Hovland was called on to be the primary back. Despite logging the extra minutes, Hovland improved his defensive numbers.
Hovland had 71 solo tackles with 23 assists and 11 tackles for a loss. He also forced three fumbles, recovered three fumbles and added an interception. He did an admirable job shouldering the offensive load as well, carrying 153 times for 907 yards, adding eight receptions for 142 yards and eight total touchdowns. He rushed for over 100 yards four times and hit 90 in two other games.
“I didn’t mind (being running back), but it was tough. I definitely cramped a lot the first few games and had to drink quite a bit of water,” Hovland said. “But it was fun. I didn’t mind. I was just doing what I needed to do for the team.”
Hovland said one of his better memories was Lincoln’s upset of Class 5A No. 7 Evansville North in October of 2020. The 21-13 victory was the Alices’ first over a 5A foe since 2006.
“One of my favorites was the North game, upsetting a 5A team, and I made one of the game-saving tackles to stope them on fourth down late in the game,” he said. “(High school football) has been a lot of fun. I think all my hard work has paid off in the end, and I had a pretty good season to end on.”
Hovland, who also wrestled and played basketball in high school, recently earned second-team all-SIAC in track, placing second in the pole vault at the conference meet Tuesday. But Hovland said he’s been playing football since second or third grade, and it’s always been his favorite sport.
Olivet Nazarene, located in Bourbonnais, Ill., about 20 miles south of Chicago, competes athletically as an NAIA Division II program. The football Tigers were 7-3 last fall and had an unbeaten regular season in 2020 before dropping a shootout, 59-54, to Baker (Kan.) in the first round of the playoffs.