UK Recruiting

Matt Elam commits: 'My heart is at the University of Kentucky'

Matt Elam, a 6-foot-5, 380-pound defensive lineman from John Hardin High School in Elizabethtown, smiled as he answered questions Thursday about his choice to play for Kentucky instead of SEC power Alabama.
Matt Elam, a 6-foot-5, 380-pound defensive lineman from John Hardin High School in Elizabethtown, smiled as he answered questions Thursday about his choice to play for Kentucky instead of SEC power Alabama. Herald-Leader

ELIZABETHTOWN — Two years ago, Mamie Reed had a dream that her son would commit to play football for the University of Kentucky.

At that time, there were no big-name college coaches calling Matt Elam on the phone and visiting his high school and home on a regular basis. There were no scholarship offers from powerhouse programs like Alabama and Ohio State and Notre Dame. There wasn't even any interest from Kentucky.

Reed had that dream "before all of this happened," she said Thursday, surrounded by video cameras and tape recorders, using the phrase "all of this" to sum up the intense interest that has surrounded her son's recruitment over the past few months.

The dream had come true just a few minutes earlier, when Elam sat on a stage at John Hardin High School and announced his commitment to Kentucky.

It was a long, winding recruitment that lasted more than a year and came down to the No. 1 program in college football — Alabama — and the home-state Wildcats, a team coming off back-to-back 2-10 records and looking to rebuild under a charismatic coaching staff.

All of the visits and phone calls and tweets ended more than three weeks later than expected, following Elam's postponement of his original announcement that was set for Jan. 4.

"He's the type of person that doesn't rush things," Reed said. "You take it one step at a time. That's the way he lives life. He grows as he goes."

Throughout the recruitment, Reed told her son to go "wherever's in your heart." That's exactly what Elam did in the end.

"The whole time I was just struggling to pick a school," he 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."

Elam — a 6-foot-5, 380-pound defensive tackle — beamed throughout the news conference that followed his announcement. But he probably wasn't the happiest guy in the Commonwealth at that moment.

A few minutes before Elam revealed his decision, UK Coach Mark Stoops tweeted a photo of himself with assistant coaches Tommy Mainord and Derrick Ansley huddled around a computer screen.

If there was any doubt about what they were watching, Stoops eliminated it with another tweet immediately after Elam put on a UK helmet. "Great Day for the State of Kentucky and the BBN," he said, adding seven exclamation points at the end.

Shortly after that tweet came another with the three coaches pumping their fists and wearing huge grins.

Stoops has been on Elam for months, making him his No. 1 recruiting priority in the fall and hosting the prospect on more than 10 visits to Lexington over the course of his recruitment.

When Stoops ran out of his allotted number of off-campus visits with Elam, he sent his assistants to Elizabethtown. Neal Brown — Elam's primary recruiter — D.J. Eliot and Jimmy Brumbaugh were at the school Wednesday for the umpteenth time.

John Hardin Coach Chad Lewis singled out Brown for praise before Elam made his announcement. He talked about Stoops afterward.

"I know Matt was very relieved to have this entire process over with," Lewis said. "This has gone on for about a year now, and it's been a lot of phone calls, a lot of trips, a lot of talking and he just — he's honestly just most comfortable with Mark Stoops. He really got close to him during this entire recruiting process, and Matt needed somebody to be like a father figure to him, and he feels like Stoops is going to be able to do it for him."

Elam said that Stoops "went crazy" when he called his future head coach earlier in the week and told him he intended to commit to the Cats. Elam made Stoops promise to keep a lid on the news for a couple of days until he could announce the decision publicly.

"I've been waiting too long," the UK coach told him. "You better hurry up and commit." Elam smiled as he recalled the conversation. "I love Coach Stoops," he said.

Stoops has built a recruiting class — his first full one at UK — that now includes 28 commitments, which is the exact number he has publicly promised to sign. If no one backs out, this will be UK's highest-rated group in the era of recruiting rankings, with three times as many four-star players as any class before it.

247Sports ranks Elam as a five-star prospect, the No. 21 overall recruit in the senior class and No. 3 nationally at his position. UK isn't used to bringing in players with those types of numbers on their recruiting profiles.

Lewis acknowledged that he doubted the Wildcats could hang around in the recruitment once Alabama and the rest of the big boys got involved. That they did stay in it — and ultimately win Elam's commitment — is a testament to Stoops and his coaching staff. And, Lewis hopes, a sign of things to come.

"Coach Stoops is doing something right," he said. "He can't build this program in one year. The way the program was ... it was on a downhill slide. It's going to take some time to rebuild it. The way to rebuild a program is to recruit the best players, and you have to go after the best players.

"When you land these type of kids, your program's going to change."

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