Aside from Drew Barker, Elizabethtown defensive tackle Matt Elam may be the 2014 recruit we’ve talked about the most on the site recently. Rivals ranks the John Hardin giant the second best prospect in the state of Kentucky, and with good reason. At 6’6″, 350 lbs, he is a beast with an “SEC-caliber” body, and the raw skill to back it up. On his first trip to Alabama for a camp, he got an offer, and Nick Saban recently told him he was the best nose tackle he’d seen that year, which really means he’s good. How big would his commitment to UK be? I’d argue just as big as Drew Barker’s. Here’s why:
He’s down to Kentucky, Alabama, and Ohio State
A year ago, that sentence would have been a joke. However, Mark Stoops has enticed top recruits give the Cats a second look, starting with in-state talent. In order to land elite prospects from other states, you have to start with the ones at home. The fact that Kentucky’s still a contender–some say a favorite–for Elam speaks volumes about this staff’s impact. Saban wants him, which is basically equivalent to John Calipari going after an elite prospect in basketball; in any other situation, it would likely be a done deal. Ohio State’s presence is major too; after receiving an offer yesterday, Elam raved about the Buckeyes, calling it “the type of program I want to go to.” However, Kentucky’s still in it for a reason; Elam is close to Barker and Mikel Horton, and for someone who’s not announcing his decision for another six months, is sounding downright Wildcat-like on Twitter. The “Come be a hero” campaign is alluring to Elam, who has said that the only negative thing about Alabama is that it’s so far from home. To me, the fact that he left Alabama without committing on the spot is big on its own. If Kentucky were to land a recruit coveted by two of the nation’s top elite programs, it would send major shockwaves through the recruiting world. You have to feel that the longer this recruitment goes, the better it looks for the Cats.
He’s announcing his decision at the US Army All-American Bowl
Yesterday, Elam said that he was planning to announce his decision at the US Army All-American Bowl on January 4, which means that it will get a lot of national buzz. Even if he goes with Alabama or Ohio State (Florida is also a darkhorse, but hasn’t offered), Kentucky will be discussed as one of the candidates leading up to his announcement, and in those circles, that’s never a bad thing. If he does choose Kentucky, the fact that he picked Mark Stoops and the home state school over the nation’s elite programs will be a huge storyline. Barker choosing Kentucky over South Carolina was big, especially since it happened so early, but Elam picking the Cats over Alabama and Ohio State in front of a televised audience would be…well, just as big as he is.
The “Come be a hero” campaign would gain even more momentum
In seven short months, Mark Stoops has more top in-state talent than Joker Phillips did in his entire tenure. From day one, Stoops and staff implemented the “Come be a hero” campaign to keep the state’s top players in state. It’s working. Jason Hatcher, Ryan Timmons, and Drew Barker are changing the conversation about Kentucky football in high schools across the Bluegrass. Matt Elam’s commitment would make that campaign a movement. UofL got a taste of the changing tides when Jason Hatcher chose the Cats over the Cards and USC, and although Elam has Louisville in his top five, he’s said that playing in the SEC is a priority for him. The SEC, early playing time, and state pride are UK’s major draws right now; Elam coming to Lexington would show just how much the latter matters.
He would be the cornerstone of Kentucky’s defense
Elam says the staff’s told him that he’s UK’s number one priority on defense. As Barker is the nucleus of the class of 2014’s offense, Elam would be the nucleus of the defense. His size is obvious, but Elam is suprisingly agile for a guy his size. He’s capable of spinning out of coverage and has a good burst of speed off the line. His fundamentals could use a little work–for instance, he needs to stay lower in contact–but that’s easily fixed. You know what they say: you can teach technique, but you can’t teach talent or size. At 6’6″, Elam can get a hand up to block passing lanes, and with his speed off the line, can drive players back to collapse the pocket. You think he’s good now? Give him another year of high school and a few months of instruction from the UK staff.
He’s already recruiting for Kentucky
Maybe it’s Kentucky pride. Maybe it’s his friendship with Drew Barker and Mikel Horton. Or maybe, all of Matt Elam’s pro-Kentucky tweets mean that his heart is already in Lexington. When fellow recruit Mike Edwards faced a bit of BBN backlash after tweeting that he was wearing a Louisville t-shirt, Elam stood up for the fan base, saying they are “the best fans by far.” Experience teaches us not to read too much into recruits’ tweets (it’s so tempting!), but if I had a nickel for every time Elam used a #StoopsTroops or #BBN hashtag, I’d be able to buy at least one Diet Coke.
We’ve got six months until he announces his decision, but Elam comes to Lexington on Monday to meet with Mark Stoops, the staff and the 2014 commitments, who are convening for Saturday’s Prime Time Camp. I feel as though since Stoops came on board, we’ve become a broken record, but could this be UK’s biggest recruiting weekend ever?