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Monday, December 30, 2013
Army Bowl notebook: Decision time

By Damon Sayles

SAN ANTONIO -- Day 1 is in the books for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Here is Monday’s notebook featuring some of the nation’s top players:

Elam in his element; ready to choose UK or Bama

At 6-foot-6 and more than 350 pounds, ESPN 300 defensive tackle Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky./John Hardin) is a big man, and he’s used to being the bully on the football field.

Being at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, however, has made him appreciate football at the next level. What he’s heard all his life is true: The players are bigger, faster, stronger.

Or, as he was able to see firsthand during Monday’s first day of practice, a combination of all three.

“It’s crazy being out here with all this athleticism. Back in Kentucky, I don’t see that a lot,” said Elam, the No. 2 player in Kentucky and the No. 292 player in the ESPN 300.

“Back in Kentucky, they’re probably 220, 230 on the line of scrimmage. Here, they’re 300-plus. When I see 300-plus in Kentucky, they usually can’t move an inch. These guys are moving here. It was cool to go up against people like that.

Matt Elam
Matt Elam enjoys the tougher competition.
“Playing with the best of the best, it makes you better. It’s been making me go 100 percent every single play. If you don’t, you’re going to get put on your back.”

Those are words every college coach wants to hear, and on Saturday, Elam, playing for the East team, is set to announce his decision during the game. He’ll either choose Alabama, the two-time defending national champion, or Kentucky, the rising program located a little more than an hour away from home.

Elam said there’s a level of comfort with Kentucky’s coaching staff and its commits. With Alabama, Elam said he’s a fan of how every day will be a competition as the nation’s elite fight for playing time. Plus, he’s a fan of Nick Saban.

Will he go to Lexington or Tuscaloosa?

“I have no idea,” he said. “I’ve had people ask if I’m not just telling, but I promise that I would tell some people if I knew. Right now, I just don’t know.”

OT Wallace has cut chin, decision to make

ESPN 300 offensive tackle Brian Wallace (St. Louis/Christian Brothers College High) left the West team morning practice with a bandage on his chin. The bandage didn’t cover the blood well.

Wallace isn’t a stranger to cuts and bruises. Consider those minor setbacks as he prepares for the huge step of playing college football. At 6-6 and 305 pounds, he’s a big guy with big expectations.

He also has a big decision to make Saturday. Wallace will choose either Alabama or Arkansas during the Army bowl game.

“Both [schools] have the same things. They’re both impressive as far as their facilities, education wise, the football team in general, everything,” Wallace said. “They’ve both got what I want.”

As for playing with pain, Wallace said the physical nature is a part of football. Wallace is appreciative of lining up against some of the top defensive linemen and is expecting to learn a lot from the experience.

“It ain’t no joke,” he said. “With your regular high school team, you might be the king of your team, dominating everybody. Here, everybody’s just like you. Same strong, same amount of speed, everything.”

Lattimore and Smith an unofficial package deal

ESPN 300 defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith have been high school teammates at Glenville High School in Cleveland for three years. They plan on being college teammates.

Erick Smith, Marshawn Lattimore
Erick Smith and Marshon Lattimore are staying quiet about their college choice.
Where that will be, however, remains a mystery. While many believe Ohio State is the team to beat, both players are keeping their plans private until Saturday.

“We talked about it, and it’s time to make our decision,” said Lattimore, No. 50 in the ESPN 300. “But we haven’t told anybody. We’re keeping it quiet.”

“A lot of people may assume,” added Smith, No. 228 in the ESPN 300, “but nobody really knows.”

Wherever they end up, Smith said he felt the winning school would benefit greatly if he and Lattimore were together. Both were solid in the secondary for the East team on Monday.

“When it came down to it, we felt the same about the same school,” Smith said. “We just decided that it was the best thing to do for both of us. Every visit we went to, we went together.”

DE Thomas aspires to be first out, last to leave

ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) being the first player to check in on Sunday wasn’t news to his high school coach.

“No surprise,” Coppell coach Joe McBride said. “I think he’s really excited to be there and excited to play. He loves taking the leadership role and loved to practice.”

Thomas checked in early Sunday morning and was one of the first on the practice field at Blossom Athletic Center on Monday. Ask the 6-foot-3, 256-pound defensive end about it and he’ll give you a common-sense explanation.

“When you are trying to be great, it has to be like that,” Thomas said. “There’s always a need for improvement, and I’m always open for improvement.”

Thomas has yet to announce his college plans, but don’t expect him to give a verbal during the bowl game on Saturday. He has official visits set to Stanford (weekend of Jan. 17), Arkansas (Jan. 24) and Ohio State (Jan. 31). A decision most likely will come on signing day, Feb. 5.

Recruiting stress can dwindle for TE Dixon

ESPN 300 tight end Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure) has UCLA and USC high on his recruiting list and Texas and Miami a mini-step behind. He is expected to announce his decision on Saturday during the game.

Minutes after the announcement, Dixon may let out a resounding sigh of relief. Dixon, like many of the elite targets of college football recruiting, is feeling the effects of a recruiting process that seemed to never end. It wore him down and, eventually, wore him out.

“I don’t really like it, but I liked it at first,” Dixon said. “My junior season, it was like a weight off my chest after getting my first offer. After that, it just got tiring.”

Dixon, who’s competing for the West team, said something that many recruits can relate to but never advertise.

“Your room gets messy with all the [recruiting] letters,” Dixon said. “I’d get 50 [letters] a day at school, then 50 at home. It was crazy.

“My dad would just throw the letters in my room. Then, everybody is telling you to go here or go there. It was cool at first, but it got annoying.”

The stress of recruiting may not end for Dixon until after he signs his national letter of intent in February, but on Saturday, it could decrease with the help of one verbal commitment.