By LARRY VAUGHT
Neither Kentucky coach Mark Stoops nor defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot are prone to be overly complimentary of players, especially incoming freshmen in the preseason. However, defensive lineman Matt Elam — who picked Kentucky over Alabama — has had both coaches talking.
“He’s so big, but he’s so athletic for his size. He’s a very unique player,” Stoops said. “Guys like that don’t come around all the time. He’s got a bright future because he picks up on things well. He’s extremely athletic for his size. He needs to continue to work to get into shape so he can play at a high level in this conference. No matter what position you’re playing, that’s hard to do as a freshman, but I really like where he’s at, and I anticipate him playing in the first game and being ready to go.”
Eliot said just to “imagine a big train going fast down the track” to visualize what Elam’s impact could be. He’s listed at 6-foot-7, 375 pounds on the Wildcats’ roster.
“When you see someone that big, you just don’t expect to see an explosion and something so quick off the ball, and he has that,” Eliot said. “He definitely has a natural talent, but he had some good high school coaches (at John Hardin), and he went through a good program.”
Eliot says he’s never been around a player so big.
“He’s probably the biggest player I’ve ever been associated with. Coach Stoops and I were at Florida State together, we were at Miami together, and we had some good defensive tackles, but never one that big,” Eliot said.
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown has noticed Elam’s play.
“He’s getting better. He’s a load up front. We try to run him side to side and then maybe hit him up the middle. He’s really big. Got a lot of football savvy, too,” Brown said. “People look at his size, and that’s the first thing they talk about. He’s got a lot of football savviness about him.”
Defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh laughed when told that Elam said he often “irritate” him with his persistence during the recruiting process.
“A lot of times it does happen. You have to get those young men to believe in you and get them to understand you are doing something for them and not to them. That’s the whole process right there,” Brumbaugh said. “His personality helps him a lot. He is just the kind of guy who is different. He’s very vocal. But a big lovable guy and that’s the best thing about him.”
Elam is also a media favorite because of his wit and charm. However, after being interviewed regularly in high school, he was off limits to the media from his arrival at Kentucky until June until the team’s media day earlier this month. He is not available for interviews again until after the Cats’ opening game Aug. 30.
“It was kind of relaxing for the football part (not doing interviews). Had something else to take over. But I did miss it a little bit. I kind of like being in the spotlight and kind of having my name out there. I kind of like doing this stuff. A lot of players are shy, but I like this,” Elam said on media day.
“I think it (media) does motivate him. He understands the importance of it and doesn’t let all the pressure get to him. Sometimes guys let pressure get to them and it hurts them, but he is the kind of guy who can handle it,” Brumbaugh said.
Elam has seen photoshopped pictures of him in which he is bigger than the UK library or he’s on a train.
“I think it is funny. The players laugh. I don’t take it serious,” he said.