Elam a rare gem for Cats, who know they need more

broberts@herald-leader.comJanuary 30, 2014 

ELIZABETHTOWN — Matt Elam called his friend Drew Barker on Wednesday and told him he was going to commit to play football at Alabama.

He wanted Barker to hear it from him first, and he didn't want the future University of Kentucky quarterback to be upset with him. Barker told Elam he wasn't mad and that he would support his friend wherever he decided to go.

That's when Elam gave up the joke and said he'd be committing to UK.

"He got excited and said we've got to change this thing," Elam said Thursday. "I told him we've definitely got to change this thing."

Elam is just the 13th Top 100 national prospect from the state of Kentucky since recruiting services started posting player rankings online in 2002. Of the 12 that came before him, Micah Johnson is the only one who played for the Wildcats. Four of them went to Louisville, and the rest left the state.

Barker is right on the edge of Top 100 status, and the former Conner High standout is seen as UK's quarterback of the future, possibly the most highly touted Wildcat at his position since Tim Couch.

Both Elam and Barker had bad experiences with former UK coach Joker Phillips, and neither prospect would be coming to Lexington if Mark Stoops hadn't taken over.

"Oh, there's no way. There's no way. He would not have gone to the University of Kentucky under the old regime," said Elam's high school coach, Chad Lewis. "That's not a knock against Joker Phillips and that staff, but Matt would not have been at Kentucky. He would've been at Alabama. There's no doubt."

Barker, Elam and South Warren defensive lineman Adrian Middleton are three of the top five prospects in Kentucky for the class of 2014, according to Rivals.com. It's the first time since 2008 that UK will bring in three of the state's top five players.

That's a trend that must continue for Stoops and his coaching staff to be successful at UK, and Elam knows it.

"I feel like that's one of the main reasons I stayed is just to help out my home-state program," he said. "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."

Lewis said that the commitments of Elam and Barker could lead to more in-state recruiting success down the road.

Elam got started on that right away Thursday, directing a tweet at Madison Southern junior Damien Harris, a top UK target for 2015 and the No. 1 running back in his class according to Rivals.com.

"I feel like definitely UK can get to the top one day," Elam said. "It may not happen next year or the year (after) that, but it's going to happen."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: UKrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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