Elam is UF's game-wrecker


Florida safety Matt Elam speaks during a news conference Saturday for the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Florida will play Louisville on Wednesday night.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 11:57 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — When Matt Elam arrived at Florida, he knew what position he wanted to play.

“He wanted to play linebacker,” said Florida senior Jon Bostic. “He said he just didn't have the height.”

The 5-foot-10 defensive back didn't get any taller during his three years at UF, but he did get bigger. And the result in 2012 was an All-American season.

Elam became the big playmaker for Florida's defense this season with four interceptions, 10 tackles for a loss and what may have been the biggest play of the year with his strip of LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham in Florida's 14-6 win.

As Florida prepares to face Louisville in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night, Elam has been on the minds of the Cardinals players.

“He's a freak of nature,” said Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

“He can wreck a game,” said Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.

That's what Florida has been doing all season — wrecking offensive attacks in part because of Elam's versatility. He's got the speed to play safety and the physicality to play linebacker.

“I've got the heart of a linebacker,” he said.

As a result, Florida has often walked Elam up to the line of scrimmage to be another defender in the box. And he has delivered.

But it wasn't always that way.

While Elam was part of the super-hyped 2010 recruiting class, his first two seasons mirrored what was happening at Florida. It wasn't that he was bad, but he wasn't great.

So when last season was over, he was challenged by Florida coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

“I learned a lot from Coach Muschamp,” Elam said. “Things I didn't know and things I thought I knew. But the big thing was that they challenged me to be more physical. Coach Muschamp said, ‘You can't play soft in the SEC.'

“I knew that, but I wanted to prove that I'm not what you think. When he said we were soft (after last year's FSU game), I took that personally.”

Elam's physicality has allowed Florida to move him around on the field.

“The biggest transformation to me that I've seen from my first year of coaching Matt to now is how physical he is,” Quinn said. “And I think that really has to stem from the time and effort that he spent in the weight room changing. He's getting stronger.

“We play him at the line of scrimmage a lot, whether it's at safety or nickel. He can blitz. He can cover. But to me the physical style he plays with is one of the things that really jumps out on your team. Just the physical nature that a guy can bring to your club really is a huge advantage.”

That physical nature has become his trademark. Elam said he still gets a hard time from teammate Loucheiz Purifoy for the hit he put on Purifoy after the defensive back made a nice tackle on an LSU punt return.

“I hear about it all the time,” he said. “But that's my boy.”

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