The picture is still out there, floating around in cyberspace, the one where Matt Elam is posing in an Florida State hat and shirt. He has the same reaction every time he sees it.
“I start to get sick to my stomach,” Elam said.
The picture was taken by his hometown paper last December, shortly after he decommitted from Florida and committed to Florida State amid speculation that Urban Meyer’s coaching career might be over. Not long after the picture was taken, Elam changed his mind again after having a lengthy conversation with Meyer and went back to being a Gator. Elam had been committed to UF for almost a year before nearly straying.
Now, Elam is competing for serious playing time at strong safety for the Gators. When UF is in a nickle defense, he is a starter.
“I’m glad I’m here and it’s over with,” Elam said of his wild recruiting ride in late December and early January. “It was difficult trying to keep everyone happy. I’m glad it’s over with.
“I was trying to make everyone happy but myself. I definitely made the right choice.”
Elam’s recruitment turned into a soap opera shortly after Meyer resigned on Dec. 26, then announced a day later he would be returning following an indefinite leave of absence. Concerned that Meyer, with whom he had forged a close relationship over the years, might not be coming back, Elam opened his recruitment and gave his pledge to the Seminoles. The commitment did not last long. After Meyer reassured Elam that he would be coaching next season, Elam re-committed to UF and signed with the Gators in February.
“I’ve learned to make choices on my own and not worry what other people think,” Elam said. “I have to do it on my own. A lot of people gave up on me because they didn’t know what I wanted to do. They thought I was confused. A lot of people stopped talking to me.
“I was very confused. I really didn’t know what to do. People think I was playing around. I really wasn’t. I wanted to do what was best for me. It was tough.”
The conversation with Meyer cleared his head.
“Yeah, it did,” Elam said. “I felt kind of bad, very bad, because I made a commitment and things happened. I should never turn my back on a commitment. I felt bad when I did that, especially to a rival like that.”
Now that the recruiting drama is behind him, Elam is getting down to work and making quite an impression on the coaching staff. Late last week, Meyer said Elam has earned the right to see playing time in the fall. He figures to be a factor on special teams and on defense, where’s he’s been a consistent playmaker this spring.
“I knew if I kept working hard, they would have no choice but to play me,” he said. “That’s my mind frame, keep working hard and make them play me.”
Elam said one of the reason he switched back to Florida last January was to have a chance to be part of what many rank as the top defensive recruiting class in the nation.
“I saw all those great defensive linemen coming in,” he said. “Defensive linemen are the reason why safeties and defensive backs get the spotlight. It was talked about all the time how good we’re going to be, how we’re going to be the best defense in the nation and win national championships. We always talk about it.”