Rivals.com analyst Josh Helmholdt noticed something when he was watching UK football commitment Matt Elam in the practices leading up to the Army All-American Bowl earlier this month.
Elam wasn’t as explosive as he could have been off the snap, Helmholdt said, and it was affecting his ability to get a quality push against the highly touted offensive linemen on the other side.
There’s an obvious fix.
“I think it would definitely help his quickness if he shed some of that weight,” Helmholdt told the Herald-Leader at the time. “I mean, he’s a big boy. There’s no doubt about it. There is no doubt that he is a large man.”
Elam weighed in at 372 pounds at that event. The 6-foot-5 defensive tackle is up to 380 now.
That’s too big to make an immediate impact in the Southeastern Conference next season, and Elam knows it. His high school coaches have been telling him, the college coaches that were recruiting him have been telling him, and the analysts that evaluated him have made it no secret.
“(UK will) want to, I’m sure, get him in better playing shape before they trot him out there as a frequent contributor,” Helmholdt said.
If Elam can’t drop some of that weight over the next few months, he might be facing the ‘R’ word during his first season in Lexington. It was never discussed on the recruiting trail, but John Hardin Coach Chad Lewis didn’t dismiss the possibility.
“You know, they haven’t talked about a redshirt, but that would definitely be in the picture, I’m sure, because they don’t want to waste a year of him weighing 380,” Lewis said Thursday. “Both schools said they would get him a diet plan and a workout plan when signing day got here. It’s work. All the fun is over now — right now — and it’s going to be about getting in shape and getting himself ultimately to where he can produce at Kentucky next year.”
There’s no doubt that Elam wants to be on the field this fall. According to 247Sports, he’s the No. 21 overall prospect in the Class of 2014 and the No. 3 defensive tackle in the country. Those rankings bring expectations, both from UK fans and Elam himself.
“I definitely anticipate to go in and play because I feel like I’m big and strong enough that I can play in the SEC, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there,” Elam said. “I need to lose some weight. I need to get in shape more, so there’s a lot of things I need to work on, but I will definitely work on that before I get there.”
Elam says there is no specific weight he wants to get down to before he reports to UK this summer. He said he feels strong and that his current frame is “not just sloppy weight,” but he acknowledged multiple times that he needs to shed some of it.
When asked during the season what he needed to work on most, Elam immediately said he had to get in better shape.
His goal is to play in the NFL, and, as he said Thursday, “you look in the NFL, you don’t find a 360, 380 nose guard.”
Elam might not have an exact number in mind, but Lewis says there’s definitely a range his star player needs to reach before he can play effectively against SEC opponents.
Lewis told the Herald-Leader last week that Elam would need to be around 360 pounds when he shows up at UK in June. And he’ll need to slim down even more to see the field in 2014.
“The one thing that all of these college coaches have hounded him about is his weight,” Lewis said. “Matt is effective at 380 for two or three plays. But to be able to play 30, 40 plays in a game, he’s going to have to get his weight down to around the 350 range to be effective. To be able to play down in and down out like they want him to. … They want him to be able to go 100 percent down in and down out.”