UK Football

Mark Story: Matt Elam's message for Damien Harris

Top recruit Damien Harris of Madison Southern announced he will attend the University of Alabama on Friday January 9, 2015.
Top recruit Damien Harris of Madison Southern announced he will attend the University of Alabama on Friday January 9, 2015. Herald-Leader

In January, when five-star running back Damien Harris announced he was picking Alabama over Kentucky, UK defensive tackle Matt Elam was in the Madison Southern gymnasium to see the announcement.

Since then, I have wondered: Did UK send Elam to Berea as a living symbol that a heavily-recruited Kentucky high school star could say no to Nick Saban's football factory in favor of staying at home? A year before, Elam, the ex-John Hardin standout, had shocked some national recruiting analysts by choosing Kentucky over the "Saban-ic forces."

Elam said Friday at Kentucky football's 2015 media day that it was Harris who invited him to the commitment ceremony.

"Damien did, I guess, because I just recruited him the whole time, talked to him a lot, and I had him on his official visit (to UK)," Elam said. "We just made like a real good connection and everything, a friendship."

When he drove to Madison Southern that day, Elam did so expecting Harris to pick UK.

"It was kind of a weird situation. I definitely went there because I thought he was going to come here," Elam said. "I mean, I support him in whatever he does, but I really wish he would have come here. I think he would have been a better fit here. But, at the end of the day, it's his decision."

If Elam and Harris stay healthy, the two former Kentucky high school stars will play on the same college field at least once. According to the future SEC football schedule, Kentucky and Elam will travel to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama and Harris in 2016.

"You want me to preview the matchup between the two of us?" Elam said, grinning. "Well, if (Harris) comes my way, it's over for him. It's as simple as that."

UK's 'Refrigerator?'

In spring practice, new Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson experimented with Clay County product Jacob Hyde — a 6-foot-2, 320-pound nose guard — at fullback.

"I'd never even lined up in the backfield before," Hyde said. "In high school, I always played on the 'o-line.'"

This summer, in preparation for his new offensive role, Hyde said he's checked out some old video of William "The Refrigerator" Perry running the ball. For the Super Bowl Shuffle Chicago Bears of 1985, Mike Ditka utilized Perry, a 6-2, 335-pound defensive tackle, as a fullback.

"The Fridge" even scored a touchdown in Chicago's 46-10 win over New England in Super Bowl XX.

"I have watched a couple of his films," Hyde said. "He was an animal, all you can say, an animal. Hopefully, I can fill his shoes."

Battling Bobby Petrino

Last time we saw Kentucky on the football field, things were quite chippy between the Wildcats and archrival Louisville. During the pre-game warmups in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium before U of L's 44-40 win in the 2014 season finale, there were several skirmishes between Cats and Cards.

The most memorable image to come from the shoving and pushing was a photo taken by Kentucky Kernel photographer Michael Reaves. It showed Louisville head man Bobby Petrino and Kentucky director of football recruiting operations Daniel Berezowitz in a face-to-face confrontation, with each having a handful of the other's jacket.

The picture went viral, with Louisville players saying they were fired up before the contest by seeing on Twitter the image of their head coach fighting.

On Friday, I asked Berezowitz if high school recruits that visit Kentucky now ever ask him about the photo of his dust up with Petrino?

Berezowitz laughed. "I don't know about that, no," he said.

According to the Nov. 29 Kentucky Kernel account of the events that led up to Reaves' picture, Berezowitz and Petrino each started out trying to break up player skirmishes. Petrino shoved a UK player, Berezowitz saw that and pushed Petrino from behind — and that led to the moment captured in the photo.

"All timing and circumstance. Totally unplanned," Berezowitz said Friday of his battle with Bobby P. "I don't even talk about it anymore. It's behind us."

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