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Mamie Reed remembers her young son, Matt Elam, getting into the car after his team lost a youth league championship. The other kids didn’t give the loss a minute’s thought. But Elam did.
While the other kids were laughing and joking around, Elam slipped into the backseat to hide from the world. He didn’t want everyone to see the raw emotion he felt from such a heartbreaking loss.
“His team lost the game and the other kids were laughing, but not Matt,” Reed said. “He got into the backseat and started crying. He was really hurt. That’s when I knew how serious he was about the game.”
The game has provided Elam with his fair share of heartbreak. The youth league loss was one example. He experienced more of the same last year when John Hardin fell to Bowling Green, 14-13 in the final 2 minutes. And he was part of a humiliating 62-20 loss to Bowling Green in 2011.
But football has provided Elam many joyful moments. He earned Area Defensive Sophomore of the Year honors and was named the Area Lineman of the Year last year. He’s been a part of 33 wins at John Hardin since he became a starter and had success at Bluegrass Middle School.
On Tuesday, Elam had another day to celebrate because of football. He received an official invitation to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 in San Antonio. Elam became the first player from Hardin County to receive such an honor in the game’s 14-year history.
“It’s amazing,” said Celisa Martinez, Elam’s older sister. “It’s like a dream. It doesn’t seem real.”
Elam joined select company getting an invitation to one of the most prestigious high school All-Star games in the country. Current NFL stars Andrew Luck, Adrian Peterson, Reggie Bush, LeSean McCoy, Vernon Davis and Percy Harvin played in this game as did college standouts Teddy Bridgewater, AJ McCarron, Tajh Boyd, T.J. Yeldon and De’Anthony Thomas.
“Seeing all those names of players that not only made it to the NFL, but they’re stars in the NFL, that’s incredible,” Elam said. “My dream is to make it to the league one day. It just shows a boy from Kentucky can make it with hard work and dedication.”
Football is not just a game to Elam, but a way to reach his goals and provide for his family. The mammoth 6-foot-6, 360-pound defensive tackle is one of the nation’s prized recruits with schools wooing him in order to get him on campus. He’s a freak of nature, big enough to overpower offensive linemen but quick enough to track down quarterbacks and running backs.
It’s brought Elam fame and attention. He has more than 7,000 followers on Twitter, most of them hoping to sway his college choice. Traditional college powers like Alabama and Notre Dame have visited Elizabethtown. Kentucky first-year coach Mark Stoops came to watch Elam in person. Tennessee and Ohio State are in the mix.
What’s remarkable about Elam is he hasn’t let his celebrity status go to his head. He is quick to praise his teammates and coaches. He talks fondly of his family and John Hardin’s faculty, especially Principal Lynne Gibson.
“She keeps him grounded,” Martinez said of Reed. “If he gets too big headed or something, she brings him right back down to earth. He’s very respectful and very humble.”
Elam’s a rare talent, one we don’t see often in Hardin County. He’s helped generate interest in John Hardin’s program and football in general in the area.
Reed had a feeling long ago her son would do great things. She just didn’t know it was going to be in football.
“I knew he was going to be special,” Reed said. “From day one, he was bigger than all the other babies. I just knew he was going to be special.”
Elam has fulfilled Reed’s vision, becoming extraordinary. His day Tuesday could be described the same way.
It is worlds apart from the day he shed tears in the backseat, but that helped get him to this joyous occasion.
Chuck Jones is the sports editor for The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at 270 505-1759, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.