Notre Dame football recruiting: Where will Elam land?

LARRY VAUGHT
The Advocate Messenger (Danville, Ky.)

LOUISVILLE -- While he insists he does not have a favorite in his three-team recruiting race, standout defensive tackle Matt Elam says he is “very high” on Kentucky after taking his official visit last weekend to UK.

“I just felt real comfortable and could see myself fitting in there,” said Elam Tuesday after receiving the Paul Hornung Award from the Louisville Quarterback Club as the state’s top player. “All the commits were there, and I enjoyed hanging out with them and the coaches. It was good.”

But the 6-5, 370-pound defensive tackle from John Hardin High school in Elizabethtown, Ky., says he has not decided whether he will commit to UK, Alabama or Notre Dame when he makes his announcement Jan. 4.

“I know some people want me to go to Notre Dame. A lot want Kentucky,” Elam said. “I just have to make the choice for me and my family and where I am comfortable and can be the best player I can be.”

At Notre Dame, there is opportunity for significant playing time early, given that the Irish lose all three of their nose guards, including future first-round draft choice Louis Nix.

Hornung, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame, says there’s no question Elam will be an All-American in college and eventually an NFL player.

“If there is one thing I would say do better than ever, it’s work on your quickness,” Hornung said. “You have got pro size. If you continue to work on your quickness, you will be a No. 1 pick in the draft.

“You have to listen to your elders, friends and family. They will tell you the right things to do. Make your college choice, go where you want to go and know you can have an enjoyable time on the football field and in the classroom.”

Elam was a bit overwhelmed to win the award over Hebron Conner High quarterback Drew Barker, a UK commit.

“This is very prestigious, especially for a defensive lineman. We don’t get these kind of awards,” Elam said.

His coach, Chad Lewis, says Elam has unique ability. He bench presses 370 pounds, squats 550 pounds and has consistently run the 40-yard dash in 5.0 seconds.

“Matt has God-given ability, size, agility, strength and speed,” Lewis said. “He has uncanny ability to completely control the line of scrimmage.

“Teams completely altered their game plans to run away from Matt, but he still managed to make 84 tackles, and that’s incredible. He not only plays between the tackles, but he can make plays outside the hashes. He has unbelievable ability to play on the line, but also outside on the edge with his size.”

Elam says college recruiters want him to play between 340 and 350 pounds.

“I think I move pretty well at this size, but anything they want to help the team,” he said.

He expects to play nose guard in college.

“I definitely want to stay on defense,” Elam said.

And he may stay in state to play for a program which can’t compare to the pedigree of Alabama or Notre Dame.

“You can’t judge a team because of a 2-10 record last year,” Elam said. “They are going to get better under coach (Mark) Stoops. So what they did last year doesn’t bother me, because they are all talking about how much better they will be and all the commits there last weekend are all very talented guys.”

Elam also noted he was “born and raised in Elizabethtown” and has been there his whole life.

“I am a Kentucky kid. I love the state of Kentucky,” Elam, who wore a size 10 shoe in first grade, said.

Elam certainly showed his fun-loving side to the Louisville Quarterback Club, too. The list of previous Hornung Award winners included quarterback Tim Couch, a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. But it was also pointed out that Couch had married a Playboy playmate he met during his playing career.

“I would like to hang out with Tim Couch. Hopefully, I want to be like him. He is doing very good right now,” Elam joked.

When he was asked when he started playing football, Elam said it was early.

“I just know I was bigger than everybody else. I thought I was good,” he smiled and said. “I thought, ‘I kind of like this sport.’ My mom said, ‘You should, you are the biggest one around.’ That was about second grade I think, so I stuck with it.”

Lewis said Elam has always been able “to light up a room” with his personality.

“He can walk into an intimidating situation with a smile and punch line,” the John Hardin coach said. “A few times his comedic side put him in my doghouse, but not often.”

John Hardin principal Lynn Gibson said she had watched Elam “grow and mature from a goofy freshman” to a mature young man.

“There are still some goofy times, but he has matured a lot, and we are proud of him,” she said. “Matt and his talent have put us on the national map, and we are very proud of that. He has brought us a lot of positive attention.”

More will come when he makes his college choice live on NBC during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, where Barker will be on his team — and likely be his roommate.

“I know everybody thinks my choice is made, but it isn’t,” Elam said. “I have some more time to think about it, but it will be nice to get it done so it will all be settled. I can’t make a bad choice, so I just have to decide what feels right.”

Defensive tackle Matt Elam of Elizabethtown, Ky., right, remains one of Notre Dame’s top recruiting targets in the 2014 class.