By LARRY VAUGHT
Matt Elam ended months of speculation about his college choice by announcing today that he would sign with Kentucky, not Alabama, next week.
The 6-6, 380-pound defensive lineman from John Hardin High School is considered a five-star recruit by 247Sports.com, four-star player by Scout.com and ESPN.com and three-star player by Rivals.com. He’s ranked as high as the 21st best player.
He’s the 28th — and final member — of Kentucky coach Mark Stoops’ 2014 recruiting class and should assure that the Wildcats have a top 15 recruiting class when the national signing period ends.
Elam thanked various coaches and administrators at his school as well as family members before picking UK.
“I think the main reason for staying is to help my home state,” Elam said after making his announcement.
Elam was one of two priority in-state recruits for Kentucky along with Conner quarterback Drew Barker, who picked UK over South Carolina and is already enrolled at Kentucky. He was named a U.S. Army All-American and also won the Paul Hornung Award winner given to the state’s top player.
His forte is expected to be stopping the run, a necessity for successful teams in the Southeastern Conference and an annual weakness at Kentucky.
“They told him from the start how much he could help them build the program and how important it was to keep players like him in the state,” John Hardin coach Chad Lewis said.
Elam leaned heavily on Lewis during the recruiting process and the coach went on official visits as well as unofficial visits with his star player.
“Coach Lewis has been with me since elementary school and gym class in the first or second grade,” Elam, who says Denver quarterback Peyton Manning is his favorite player, said.
He’s so close to Lewis that when he injured his knee late in his senior season, Lewis’ wife supervised his rehabilitation.
But Elam says his mother “played the No. 1 role in my life” and staying close to home to play will make it easier for her and his sister to see him play.
“She has been there the whole time to support me in any way. She thought I was going to commit kind of early but then I decided to wait and she told me that was perfect to be committed and be solid and not de-commit. She is just very supportive of me,” Elam, who originally planned to commit at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in early January before changing his mind.
He says they don’t really talk “academics or sports” at home.
“It is just like me being a son. I can trust her and tell her if I am having fun or talk about if I got to meet this person. I can tell her the fun and sad things,” Elam said. “I never talk to her just about academics except I did talk to her about qualifying (academically) before when I wasn’t sure if I would qualify and then I got the 21 on my ACT to qualify and that was kind of smooth and she was happy.
“Football, I can’t really talk that with her because she doesn’t understand about the techniques and all that. It is kind of weird talking to her about football, but I think she is understanding more now because of all the visits (from coaches) and trips she has gone on. She has been kind of pressured with all the coaches coming in. But she got to meet them and talk to them and see why I am considering them.”
He said he learned the value of discipline, which helped him in football, early from his mother.
“She used to beat the heck out of me but now I don’t want to give her any more stress. I don’t want her to worry about me being this bad kid, so I try to be the best kid that I can be. She doesn’t really discipline me now because I don’t give her that stress to be worried about me in that way,” Elam said.
Elam said for months he wanted to play, not redshirt, to start his college career even though both Lewis and Elam admit he will have to lose weight to play in the SEC. He likes the returning talent on UK’s defensive front with ends Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree along with junior college signee Cory Johnson and redshirt freshman Regie Meant.
“Then we Denzil (Ware) coming in to play and he can do the same kind of things that Jason Hatcher did last year,” Elam said. “I feel like the defensive line is definitely SEC-caliber and can compete with the Alabamas and everyone else. I feel like that’s going to be the strong point at Kentucky.”
Elam is also a believer in Barker’s ability and readily admits that Barker deserves credit for helping persuade players, including him, to pick Kentucky.
“I think Drew is that home in-state kid that just chose to jump on board. He had some choices to go out of state. I think a lot of people like him and love him because he did stay in state,” Elam said. “He could have left and I think it would have been kind of different if he had. But he stayed and he’s a fun kid that everybody likes.
“I say Drew helped the recruiting class a lot. He could recruit the receivers he wants to throw to because nobody wants to come to a class that doesn’t have a QB. All the receivers know he is a good QB and stuff. Drew is also a very dominant player.”
Elam acknowledged the recruiting process had been stressful, but he also will keep a lot of good memories.
“Just all the things that I got to see on all these visits. Going to all these schools and everybody I got to meet was great,” Elam said. “It is a blast to do this. It can be stressful, but I never let it really get to me. I felt like everybody has a better life and a worse life, so I know a lot of people would kill to be in my shoes, so I never took any of this for granted.”