Freshman defensive tackle Matt Elam was a popular guy today, fielding a wide variety of questions, mostly about his size. I’d say his personality is larger than life, but for him, that’s almost impossible. Elam’s size is staggering from every perspective, and instead of being insecure about it as some might, Elam rolls with the punches, embracing the jokes and proudly standing at his full height of 6’7″. Elam is already a pro with the media, which is good, because he had a huge crowd around him all day. Elam politely and enthusiastically answered each question, practically glowing when he talked about his decision to come to Kentucky, and the importance of in-state players to the program.
“I’m proud that I came here, and I’m happy with it,” Elam told me, with his huge chest held high.”A lot of people were surprised I picked Kentucky over Alabama, but I’m an in-state guy and the coaching change really just opened my eyes.” Elam maintains that had Mark Stoops not been named UK’s head coach, he wouldn’t have considered Kentucky, and picking the Cats over Alabama was about more than just winning. “Coach Stoops, Coach Brown and Coach Brumbaugh, I just know that they can help me along in this process and make me a better player, and that at the end of the day, that’s where you need to go. You can’t just go to a program that’s just winning. You can go to a program anywhere that’s just winning, but I wanted to come here and be the man and get help and get me where I need to be for the next level.”
Elam and fellow in-state star Drew Barker were the linchpins of the 2014 recruiting class, and Elam said he hopes their decisions inspire more top in-state talent to stay home and be a hero (hint, hint Damien Harris). “I feel like we just love the state of Kentucky, we need more players from the state of Kentucky because that’s the cornerstone. That’s what you need to build on is players from Kentucky. You can go out and get these other players, but I feel like we definitely have some pride. We saw this community of football heading more towards basketball, and definitely just want to bring more wins and more people into football in Kentucky.”
Madison Southern star Damien Harris is in a similar position as Elam was, being recruited by the elite of the elite, yet still feeling the tug to help turn around the home state school. It’s a difficult decision–Elam called it the hardest of his life–but he insists it’s possible to achieve your NFL dreams at UK while helping build the program you grew up loving:
“You don’t have to leave to go to a different school to play and go to the league (NFL) or whatever your dreams are. You can definitely handle those type of things here. It’s in the SEC, there’s a lot of positive things about being at Kentucky. You can look at the past records and everything, I mean, they haven’t been winning a lot of games, but wins aren’t everything to me. If you’re getting better, that’s good for you.”
Elam says he knows change won’t happen overnight. In fact, when asked what he wants his legacy at UK to be, Elam said he wants to be one of the guys to help get the ball rolling. “Just a guy that helped change the program and lead it into the right light. I don’t expect Kentucky to go from winning two games to being undefeated, that’s just unrealistic. I just want to see improvement in everything and guys coming in from in-state and guys staying here because Kentucky is a great school. It’s not just a basketball school, it’s football, too, and the coaching staff is going to change that.”
In his quest to build the Kentucky football program, Stoops couldn’t have asked for a better cornerstone than Elam.