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By LARRY VAUGHT
When Kentucky defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh visited John Hardin junior standout Matt Elam this week, he left no doubt about how he could help the Wildcats.
“He talked about how he wanted me and I could help head the defense. He watched me practice, said he was amazed and that Kentucky needed me,” said Elam.
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown, a Bardstown native, also made the trip to Elizabethtown with Brumbaugh to see Elam before heading out to another recruiting visit. Earlier in the week he had coaches from Cincinnati, Western Kentucky and Louisville stop by and Alabama linebacker coach Lance Thompson is scheduled to visit soon. The 6-6,340-pound Elam, a four-star prospect, forget the Louisville coach was coming on Monday and wore a Kentucky shirt to school that day.
“That was crazy. I thought he was coming the same day as the UK coaches, so I just happened to wear a UK shirt that day. I have Louisville shirts, too, but I just happened to pick UK that day. I have a lot of college shirts, so it wasn’t like I was trying to insult anyone. Fans just took it out of proportion,” Elam said. “I got it straight with the Louisville coaches, but it was kind of funny.”
Elam, a four-star prospect, didn’t take any chances when Brumbaugh and Brown visited. He wore a John Hardin shirt that day. He’s got Kentucky, Louisville and Alabama at the top of his colles list and says Florida and Tennessee will be in the top five if they offer him a scholarship.
“I grew up as a neutral fan here. As a kid, I did not pick UK or U of L,” Elam said. “If one was winning and going against Michigan State or somebody, I would be for the Kentucky team. This year I picked Louisville (in the NCAA Tournament). If Kentucky was playing, it would be Kentucky. I’ve got to be neutral in this situation. If you go somewhere because you are a fan of the team, that’s the wrong reason.
“A lot of things will play a factor in my decision. I get a lot of people that say, ‘Why not go to Alabama?’ But I’ve got to think about playing time. I might just play a couple of snaps and somebody comes in and does better or just as well. I want to secure a spot, but I know I can also get better from playing with and against the best competition. UK, I might go in early and play. Same with Louisville. I just love everything I have going right now.
“I don’t mind building something like we’ve done here at John Hardin. I think about what teams did the previous seasons, but (UK coach Mark) Stoops has come in and already changed that program around. I could be part of that rebuilding. But at Alabama or Louisville, I could contribute and go to bowl games and compete for national titles right away.”
He said both Brumbaugh and Brown wanted him to “jump on the train” now with Kentucky and help persuade other players to also join the Wildcats. However, he still plans to go to camp/combines in Alabama, Florida and Kentucky this summer. He says he thinks he’ll “wait out the process and see what all my options are” before making a decision.
However, when Ohio running back Mikel Horton verbally committed to UK last week, Elam put this on Twitter: “#UK Class This Year Will Beat The Record From Last Year I Guarantee It! S/o To My Boy @mikelhorton1 For Commitment To UK Congrats Bruh! #BBN.”
“I do have some buddies up in Ohio who are recruiting me hard for Kentucky,” Elam said. “Mikel, we talk all the time. He’s trying to get the train rolling. I talk to (Conner quarterback) Drew Barker. I think UK can have something special going. I think this next recruiting class at UK will beat the record they set for the best recruiting class in history this year.”
He does like that both Stoops and Louisville coach Charlie Strong are both former defensive coordinators.
“That does matter. I want the head coach to know the defense and be involved,” Elam said. “But coach Neal Brown is doing a good job with the offense at Kentucky, too. That’s why I think UK is going to be solid.”
Elam says he’s enjoying recruiting and “wanted this attention for a long time” and realizes the calls, texts and interviews only happen once.
“I just try to enjoy it all,” he said. “I always knew I was a good player, but to get a call from Alabama coach Nick Saban was a little surreal. It was crazy actually. I just had to stand there and he actually asked if I was still there. To get recruited so hard is special. It shows all my work paid off. I never really knew how big this could be, so that’s why I am trying to enjoy it all.”
He says teammates enjoy having college coaches at spring practice and he has tried to lead the team to practice even harder with the coaches watching.
He talks with his coaches “all the time” about going to the place that “best fits me” and they avoid trying to influence me. “They tell me just to study everything,” Elam said.
He says because Fort Knox is close, there are fans of a lot of different teams that move into the area. In Elizabethtown, he says there are Louisville fans, but mainly UK fans.
“I even have teachers that love UK and some hate UK. It’s kind of funny to see how even my teachers get excited and act like kids when it comes to recruiting,” he said.
He saw more of that at the UK Blue-White Game when he realized “fans were crazy about UK football coming back” when over 50,000 showed up for the game.
“I got to go on the Cat Walk and we saw so may fans. They were holding up posters, ‘Come be a hero, Drew and Matt,’ and all kind of stuff. And ‘You’re here. You’re from here. Come be a hero.’ It was just real nice knowing fans knew your name. You just felt famous walking around and it definitely made an impression on me,” Elam said.