When the big day finally arrived, Matt Elam simply didn’t know what he wanted to do.
The highly touted defensive tackle from John Hardin High School was scheduled to make his much-anticipated college announcement on national television Saturday. The plan was to go on NBC during the Army All-American Bowl and pick either Kentucky or Alabama.
Instead, he’ll wait until national signing day on Feb. 5 to make a decision.
“Honestly, he’s torn on the decision and he does not know what he wants to do,” John Hardin Coach Chad Lewis told the Herald-Leader.
Lewis said he spoke to Elam late last month and the Class of 2014 star still hadn’t made up his mind. When Lewis landed in Texas for the All-American Bowl on Thursday, he met up with Elam again. That’s when Elam first mentioned the possibility that he would not announce his decision Saturday.
The one thing Lewis — and ultimately Elam — didn’t want is for an announcement to be made when there was still indecision.
“I said, ‘Matt, if you don’t know what you want to do, then you don’t want to be committing to someone. You don’t need to be one of these kids who ends up decommitting to a school because that’s not where you actually wanted to go,’” Lewis said. “I just told him to not worry about what the media says. Don’t worry about what people think, because ultimately it’s your decision and they’re not walking your shoes. You have to be where you’re going to be happy for the next four years and not where somebody else wants you to be or thinks you’re going to be happy.”
The pressure is high on both ends.
Mark Stoops and his coaching staff are trying to turn around a program that has gone 2-10 in each of the past two seasons, and they’ve seen an incredible amount of success — by UK’s standards — on the recruiting trail. If Elam had announced for the Cats on national TV, it would have been another major statement for the program.
And there’s Alabama, the perennial national championship contender that has enjoyed one of the best runs in college football history over the past few seasons under Coach Nick Saban.
“There’s just an immense amount of pressure that he feels,” Lewis said. “He could be kind of like Tim Couch was back in the ’90s, because he’s probably been that type of recruit this year for the state of Kentucky. Stoops and Coach (Neal) Brown are really working hard on getting that program turned around, and you have to keep the best players in the state to get the program turned and going in the right direction. And Matt knows that and he’s been told that by numerous people.
“And then, of course, all of Alabama’s accolades speak for themselves. It’s the same reason that people pick Kentucky basketball that are out of state. Why do you think those kids play for (John) Calipari? Because they feel like they’re coming to play for the best program — year in and year out — in the country.”
Elam took official visits to Kentucky and Notre Dame, which he was considering until recently, but he never got to make an official trip to Alabama. He did visit Tuscaloosa for a camp last year and again for a game during the season.
The postponement means he will have time to make that official visit before a final decision on Feb. 5.
“I’m assuming at this point he probably will,” Lewis said. “There’s not one that has been set up or scheduled. But I would say that he will be taking one — I’m sure with his mother — at some point in January.”
Elam took his official visit to Kentucky along with the majority of the players already committed to UK’s recruiting class of 2014. He has grown quite close to fellow Kentuckian Drew Barker — UK’s star quarterback commitment — and several other players during his many visits to Lexington.
Elam told the Herald-Leader recently that he feels a special bond with the UK class, and several of those recruits have said that they already consider him part of their group.
“There’s no doubt about that point of pressure,” Lewis said. “He’s really become very good friends with Drew Barker and some of those other guys. I saw him interacting with them on his official visit. He’s very close to them, and obviously that is a strong draw. Because obviously you want to be friends with the guys you’re going to play with over the next three or four years.”
Whether that place is Kentucky or Alabama remains to be seen.
Elam will play in the Army All-American Bowl on Saturday as planned. Then he’ll go back home to Elizabethtown and think on this decision some more. Stoops, Saban and everybody else will just have to wait.
“I think, all along, he was wanting to announce today,” Lewis said. “He’s still a 17-year-old kid, as I’ve said many times. He’s got the pressure to stay in state and play for his state school. And, at the same time, the lure of playing at Alabama — one of the best programs in the country. And he just hasn’t made his mind up yet as to which one of those routes he wants to travel.”