PREP FOOTBALL: John Hardin's Elam receiving plenty of attention, offers (4/29)

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By Chuck Jones

John Hardin junior Matt Elam’s day is far from over once he gets home after a long day at school and spring football practice. It’s really only just beginning.

The 6-foot-5, 340-pound defensive tackle has become a coveted recruit and the intense battle to win his services has only just begun. When Elam gets home at night, it’s routine to talk to multiple college coaches.

In the beginning of the recruiting process, it was something Elam didn’t care all that much for. Now, it’s what he looks forward to the most every day.

“It used to get overwhelming,” Elam said. “But it’s a boring night if I don’t get to talk to a coach. I usually talk to two coaches a night. I’m just enjoying the recruiting process.”

Elam has had plenty to enjoy. Since February, he has been in demand. He attended Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee junior days and he has visited schools such as Louisville and Florida.

“I enjoy the recruiting process as a whole,” Elam said. “Seeing all the environments and all the different schools … I’m just enjoying myself. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Not every player garners this type of attention. This past week alone, it reads like a “who’s who” list of coaches coming and going at John Hardin. Coaches from Louisville, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Indiana, Western Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt all either watched a spring practice or talked with John Hardin coach Chad Lewis.

The challenge for Lewis is trying to keep his player focused on school and football instead of recruiting, which can be a circus at times.

While it’s easy for Elam to get enamored with the attention, Lewis said Elam has handled the recruiting process well. In fact, the notoriety Elam has gained has helped motivated him to work even harder.

“He’s more serious about it,” Lewis said. “Now that he’s getting attention, he’s in the weight room more than in years past. It was always easier for him being bigger and stronger than everyone, he was able to dominate the competition. But if he wants to take it to the next level, he realizes he needs to be a better player and part of that is preparing yourself the right way.

“In my 12 years of coaching here and being a player from the area, I never remember someone getting this type of attention,” he added. “We’ve had some really good players in this area, but Matt has the potential to be one of the best. The amount of coaches that have come here, it’s a circus-type atmosphere. It’s good for our school, our program and our community. And he’s handled it well. So far Matt’s been humbled and grounded, which is really good to see.”

Even when there was a dustup between rival schools.

Elam wore a Kentucky sweatshirt to school last Monday, not realizing the Louisville coaches were coming that day to see him. Elam believed Louisville assistant coach Keith Carter was to stop by the school Tuesday.

Elam, a four-start recruit, was criticized by Louisville fans for the move. He was vilified on message boards and blogs and even had a reporter calling to talk to him about the “wardrobe malfunction,” which is how the headline appeared on the Louisville Courier–Journal website.

“That was crazy how that all blew up,” Elam said. “I have a lot of college shirts, so it wasn’t like I was trying to insult anyone. Fans just took it out of proportion. I wasn’t trying to disrespect anyone, but it taught me a valuable lesson. I have to watch what I say on Twitter. I have to watch everything I do, because people are keeping an eye on me. I have to be perfect.”

In the eyes of college coaches, Elam has the perfect blend of size and quickness. Not many players with Elam’s size can move the way he does. He can overpower linemen and get in the backfield to disrupt players, but he’s quick enough to beat linemen in charge of blocking him and then chase down quarterbacks and running backs.

“He’s cat quick,” Lewis said. “And I know how that sounds, but it’s true. He has great explosion out of his stance. You can’t coach that. He has thin ankles and high calves. He has great speed and quickness.”

Elam has received offers from Kentucky, Louisville, Alabama, Indiana, Western Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky. He is waiting on Florida and Tennessee to offer. Elam said Florida assistant Joker Phillips, the former Kentucky coach, talked to him about attending Florida’s invitation-only Friday Night Lights camp this summer. He also plans to attend camps and combines in Alabama and Kentucky.

Although Cincinnati saw Elam practice last week, the school didn’t offer. The same can’t be said for Indiana, which offered Elam after watching a practice. Purdue is expected to visit this week and Alabama linebacker coach Lance Thompson is set to come to John Hardin soon.

Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Ohio State also have expressed an interest in Elam and he receives letters from a number of other schools on a regular basis.

Elam doesn’t plan to rush into the decision. He said he will consult with his mother and the John Hardin coaching staff and weigh all his options. Elam likely won’t make his college choice until after his senior season, preferring to wait out the process.

“I just try to enjoy it all,” he said. “I always knew I was a good player, but to get a call from Alabama coach Nick Saban was a little surreal. It was crazy actually.

“This is a great opportunity that not a lot of people get,” he added. “I have to look at what’s good for me. I just want to become the best I can and find a place that’s going to bring that out of me. To get recruited so hard is special. It shows all my work paid off. I never really knew how big this could be, so that’s why I am trying to enjoy it all.”

Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or cjones@thenewsenterprise.com.