The transition to UK has been a transformation for Matt Elam
08/13/2014 08:21 PM
The adjustment from high school to college is difficult for many athletes. Matt Elam is no different, but his transition has been more of a transformation.
“Imagine a big train, going fast down the track,” UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said when describing freshman defensive tackle Matt Elam. “When you see somebody that big, you just don’t expect to see an explosion and something so quick off the ball, and he has that.”
Elam is listed by the Kentucky football team as 6-foot-7 and 375 lbs. He’s a giant on the field, with a rare combination of size and athleticism.
“He’s a very unique player,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “Guys like that don’t come around all the time. He’s got a bright future because he picks up on things well.”
Even though Matt arrived on campus as a heralded five-star recruit, there’s been a steep learning curve. At first, he tried to bully opposing players on the field. It worked for a while, but then he got his “welcome to college” moment.
“It was against Zach Meyers,” Elam said while describing the play. “I just tried to bull rush him. It worked for a couple of steps and then he anchored down, and I was like ‘this has never happened before.’ Coach was like ‘I told you, so you’re going to have to use technique.’”
Eager to learn and get better, Elam turned to one of the veterans on the defensive line.
“Just by him coming in, bull rushing people, you can’t do that all the time,” Za’Darius Smith said. “(One) of the moves I taught him was a pass rush move, pull slide rip, and little things like that. But he’s a great guy and he knows how to listen. That’s what I like about him.”
Improved technique has helped Elam significantly, but getting healthier has had a major impact as well. He began his UK career tipping the scale around 390 pounds. At that weight, he wasn’t effective. And if he wasn’t effective, he wasn’t going to play.
“I feel like they would definitely would redshirted me, so I had just take it all from my own perspective and I had to get my own weight down,” Elam said. “I definitely try to work hard in that because I know that’s something that could’ve held me back and I definitely didn’t want to be held back because of my weight.”
Increased exercise and hitting the weights have helped shed those pounds, but the massive defensive tackle also had to make massive changes to his diet.
“I was going from just eating McDonalds and fast food to a lot of stopping that and just eating salads and proteins and fruits,” Elam said. “I definitely drive some places and wish I could just go through that drive through. But I know that’s a bad thing for me. I had to cut out all sodas and juices and that’s kind of a hard thing. Now, I just drink milk and water, and that’s no taste. I’m like ‘man this sucks,’ but then I know it’s going to help me out so I’m like ‘let’s do it.’”
The changes have been drastic, but there’s still a long ways to go. So far, Coach Stoops and the staff like what they see. And they anticipate big things, from the big man in the middle of the defense.
“I’m very excited about Matt and his future here,” said Coach Stoops. “He needs to continue to work to get into shape so he can play at a high level in this conference. No matter what position you are, that’s hard to do as a freshman, but I really like where he’s at and I anticipate him playing in the first game and being ready to go.”