LEXINGTON, Ky. — Matt Elam had already spent three years answering embarrassing questions about his weight before SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy went on national television earlier this month and called him “lazy and as underachieving a player as I’ve seen in this league in some time.”
So who could’ve blamed the senior defensive tackle if he’d lashed out on social media or snapped when asked Sunday at Kentucky’s team media day about those comments — the latest indignity for a 6-foot-7 former 5-star recruit who weighed almost 400 pounds when he arrived on campus in the summer of 2014?
This was a rare meeting with the media for him.
It’s not that “I don’t like doing doing interviews,” he said. “It’s just the type of interviews that I get. This, that, weight — like, I answered that.”
But he knew everyone wanted to know how he felt about McElroy’s cutting commentary, so Elam endured the largest crowd of reporters for any player Sunday and answered the burning question. To his credit, he never did lash out — not online or in person.
“I heard the comment. Everybody asks me about that. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion. He’s a guy behind a desk; that’s what he’s paid to do,” said Elam, noting that McElroy has never reached out to him. “I’m just working hard to change that view. I mean, I have pride, so yeah, it [bothered me], but I’m not just going to sit there and cry about nothing like that. That’s not me. That’s not my personality.
“I’m going to have to do something about it. The only way you can do something about it is just change it. It’s going to be on film, what he sees, so I’m just going to change it that way.”
Elam, who said he’s down to a career-low 350 pounds, recorded just 9 of his 42 career tackles last season and lost his starting job at nose guard to junior-college transfer Naquez Pringle. That’s not what fans — or coach Mark Stoops — expected when the Wildcats convinced the high school All-American, rated the No. 21 overall prospect in the country by 247Sports, to play at UK instead of powerhouse Alabama.
So there is some truth in what McElroy said, even if the Wildcats feel it was unnecessary.
“I don’t think it’s right to personally come after Matt,” Stoops said Sunday. However, “We know we need to improve across the board at defensive line [and] Matt is no different. He has worked hard and I think that losing some weight and getting in great shape is a big piece of that. He’s working at it right now.”
Both Stoops and Elam elected to keep the details of their conversation about McElroy’s comments between them, but the coach was “very blunt with him” and said “we have had discussions all summer about what he wants people to [say] about him.”
Elam said he’d like, just once, to meet reporters and field questions about what he has done on the field, rather than what he hasn’t — or how much he’s weighing these days. He understands what it will take to change that conversation.
“I’m in here just killing myself,” Elam said. “It didn’t motivate me [because of] just this one guy. I’m doing it for myself, for my family. I’m not worried about what just one guy says. I’m in here killing myself so I can get to the level I want to be at. I know what type of player I am. I know what I can do. I know what type of player I was in high school — I was with the best of the best — so I still feel like I’m that type of player. I just haven’t shown it, and I definitely will.”
Kentucky assistant coach Vince Marrow believes him. He was one of the first people to encourage Elam after McElroy’s comments, tweeting that the team had his back and following up with an in-person pep talk.
“I said, ‘Look, when the NFL comes in here, they ain’t looking at what you did last year and the year before. They’re looking at your senior year. So it’s up to you who you want to be. You came here representing this state. Do you want to represent all the people that believed in you? Do you want to show them that, Hey, I’m Matt Elam. I’m a different guy?’ ” Marrow said.
“And I’m telling you — I’ll go on record: He’s going to be a different guy. And it’s going to be exciting to watch, because if you watch a 6-6, whatever [weight] he is move like that, it’s going to be a good thing.”