Kentucky was already in the middle of putting together a historically good recruiting class, but the icing on the cake came in late January when Mark Stoops and his staff were able to keep four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky./John Hardin) in state and away from SEC powerhouse Alabama.
Now Elam is a celebrity in the Bluegrass State, even signing the occasional autograph. We caught up with him to see what life’s been like since he made his big decision.
Q: I saw where it was your birthday Monday. How’d you celebrate it?
Elam: I just celebrated with my mom, my coach and a couple of my friends. We went out to eat, so it was something small, just being around the people that I love. It was real nice. I got to chill and have some time off with them. It was a nice birthday.
Q: Looking back, how close was your decision between Alabama and Kentucky?
Elam: It was really close all the way up until the end. I just felt like I could be better at UK, and I felt like my heart was there. I was more comfortable there, and I just had a better relationship with the coaches. That’s what it came down to. It was neck and neck the whole time, so I just had to find that one thing that put them on top. People said I should’ve picked Bama, but it was my decision, not everybody else’s. I don’t regret it. I’m loving the decision that I made already.
Q: What did it mean to you to stay home and play for in-state team?
Elam: I think that was a big part of my decision because I feel like I can play better for my home-state team. At Kentucky, they haven’t had a good football team in awhile, but they haven’t had the players either. That’s what you really need -- good players make a great football team. Before, their recruiting classes -- I don’t even think it was in the top 50 last year. Now it’s in the top 20. I feel like we’re finally getting it, so that’s good.
Q: So how good is this Kentucky recruiting class?
Elam: It’s the best in the history they say. I think it’s just the relationships that all of us have because we all clicked. We all know what we want to do. We want to turn around the program and just ball out while we’re doing that. All of the commitments, we know that’s where we want to be, so we’re all in the same boat. I appreciate everybody for getting on the phone and committing to Kentucky because a lot of these kids weren’t from the state of Kentucky and it’s hard going to a losing program. It takes a man to go to a losing program and help change it around. I appreciate all the commitments for that.
Q: I know there was an incident involving your jersey from the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. What happened with that and has it all been cleared up?
Elam: It’s all been taken care of. It was a big scandal with people saying I sold my jersey and I did all this and that, but it was nothing like that. I was going to get a frame and put it in my school, and the guy put it on the internet just to see how much it would go for. He didn’t know it was going to be that big of a deal. He shut down everything because I told him it could mess up my playing (football). He said, 'I’m so sorry man. I didn’t mean to do all that. I just wanted to see, as a joke, how much your jersey would go for.' He said it got up to like $800 or $1,000 for the practice jersey. Everything was fixed after that. I appreciate everybody being compliant with that and not getting mad because it wasn’t how the media made it seem.
Q: Did the NCAA ever reach out to you or your parents?
Elam: I never heard anything from them because I don’t think it was that big of a deal.
Q: Lastly, what are your goals and expectations for your first year at Kentucky?
Elam: Personally, I just want to help out my team. Whether that’s playing or not, the main thing is me becoming a better football player. That’s what college is all about -- improving your skills so you can go on to the next level. Team-wise, I don’t have these expectations that we’re going to come in and start winning all these games because that’s not going to happen. But I think this class will set the tone. Hopefully, we’ll get a good class next year and turn things around.