Matt Elam interview: Why he picked UK

broberts@herald-leader.comJanuary 30, 2014 

FBO Matt Elam

Kentucky football signee Matt Elam answers questions following his announcement Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014 at John Hardin High School in Elizabethtown, Ky. Photo by Timothy D. Easley

TIMOTHY D. EASLEY — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

Here's what new UK football commitment Matt Elam said Thursday after announcing that he would sign with the Wildcats:

Elam's statement when he committed to Kentucky ...

"It’s a crazy process, I would like to say, but it’s coming to a close now. I thought it was going to come to a close at the Army All-American game, but I wasn’t ready quite yet, and I’m not the type of guy who commits to something and decommits, because that’s just not the type of guy that I am. So without further ado, I would like to take my education for four, five, three years to the University ... of Kentucky."

On whether he realizes the impact this decision could have on the perception of the UK program:

"Yes, sir, I do understand a lot, and I feel like that’s one of the main reasons I stayed is just to help out my home-state program, because to have a great program you need great players, and it has to start with those in-state kids just to be the cornerstone of that. So I feel like me and Drew (Barker), we stayed home and I feel like we definitely want to help out Coach Stoops and the UK program."

On turning down Alabama ...

"It is very hard to turn down Alabama. It’s just the Mecca of football. A lot of people say Kentucky was a hard choice or the easy choice, but I would say definitely Alabama, just because of the program they have and just the players that they have; I would say I love what they’re doing down there and I hope they keep it up. I still like the program a lot."

Did he tell Drew Barker of his decision before Thursday? ...

“I did tell Drew because he told me (when he committed). I told him, I said, ‘Please keep this quiet.’ So he said, ‘Yeah,’ so I definitely told Drew that.”

On his relationship with Stoops and the staff ...

"The relationship part, it was the biggest role in the recruiting process, definitely I could say, because you go to these places like Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, all these places and they’re gonna have nice facilities, nice weight rooms and everything, but you just gotta see through that, because they’re all at universities, so they’re going to have nice places. So it comes down to relationships at the least. I feel like that’s what put UK over the top, just the relationship that I had with Coach Mark Stoops and the staff."

On his expectations for how good UK can be next year and beyond ...

"I feel like UK will definitely make a come-up, but things aren’t going to change quick. I don’t have this perception of just things changing as soon as I get there. Because we’re still going to struggle, but that’s the only way to go to the top, because as you see at programs like Auburn and South Carolina, they struggled in their programs and stuff. So I feel like definitely UK can get to the top one day. It may not happen next year or the year (after) that, but it’s going to happen.”

On the goals Elam has laid out for himself and the years he may stay in college ...

“I just mainly want to get my degree and go to the NFL. That’s just a dream of mine that I’ve had for a very long time. Just to help me and my family out, and I definitely want to get a degree, too, because if you do make it to the NFL, you need a backup plan, and you can always get a job with that degree, and that’s a free education. I just appreciate that the university can give me the opportunity to get a free education. I see a lot of kids now who are applying for applications and scholarships to go to these schools, and I’m like, ‘Man, at least I don’t have go through that.’ I appreciate that a lot."

On if he anticipates playing as a freshman ...

"I definitely anticipate to go in and play because I feel like I’m big and strong enough that I can play in the SEC, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there. I need to lose some weight. I need to get in shape more, so there’s a lot of things I need to work on, but I will definitely work on that before I get there."

On his relationship with UK’s other commitments and if that affected his decision ...

"It was very important just to be comfortable because if you go to a new place and don’t really know nobody, it’s kind of weird for you. I feel like I definitely have a relationship with those guys that (is) probably just insane. Because everybody said just how fast we clicked, so I think that’s something incredible because we’ve all got the same mind-set of how we just want to change the program and get to the ultimate goal."

Drew Barker's reaction when Elam told him the news ...

"I told Drew yesterday. I was playing with him. I was like, ‘I’m going to Bama. Please don’t be mad.’ He was like, ‘I’m not mad. I’m going to support you wherever.’ But I was like, ‘I’m just kidding. I’m going to UK.’ He got excited and said we’ve got to change this thing. I told him we’ve definitely got to change this thing. I feel UK never had those great players, and I feel like it’s finally going to start coming to them just start having those great players that they need to get the program started."

What was Stoops' reaction to Elam's decision? ...

“He told me that he went crazy. He said, ‘I can’t really say anything but I just want to tell the whole world.’ His wife came in and he was like, ‘Honey …’ I can’t really tell you what he said but he just went crazy. It was kind of funny. I was like, ‘Coach Stoops, you can just wait two more days.’ He was like, ‘I’ve been waiting too long. You better hurry up and commit.’ I was like, ‘Yes sir, but you have to wait just a little bit more.’ I love Coach Stoops. He’s a great head coach.”

What would Elam say if Nick Saban called and said they were still trying to recruit him? ...

"I would say, ‘Thank you for the opportunity and offering me a scholarship to play at the University of Alabama. Because a lot of kids don’t get an opportunity to play there. I would tell him that I’m just shutting down my recruitment for good. I’m definitely 100 percent committed to the University of Kentucky.”

What Elam was thinking when he finally decided to commit to Kentucky ...

"It’s finally over, I'm 100-percent committed to that school. It just felt good, because the whole time I was just struggling to pick a school. Like you said, it’s hard to turn down Alabama, and it’s crazy that I did, but I feel my heart is at the University of Kentucky -- that was the main thing."

On Stoops talking about the success they had developing defensive linemen at Florida State ...

"He said that’s what they do the best is develop D-linemen. Those coaches, they can coach anywhere but they decided to come to the University of Kentucky, and I feel like that’s the difference in the University of Kentucky. Joker Phillips’ staff, me or Drew (Barker) wasn’t really considering them. The coaching staff changed, and it just changed our minds a lot. Mostly for me, that development of D-linemen comes up a lot in recruiting. I feel like it will help out a lot having that coaching staff around just to develop me to be the best player I can be."

Elam is one of the few high school players who has turned down Nick Saban ...

"You’re right, not a lot of people have. A lot of people might be surprised, but he’s a great guy. I feel like he really cared about me. It’s kind of sad that I had to turn him down, but it’s a business decision. I feel like that’s where my heart is. I feel like he will definitely support me. He told me last night, wherever I go that he will support me. I appreciate that from him, because he’s a great coach and probably one of the best head coaches of all time. I appreciate the words coming from him."

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