GatorCountry.com continues its series previewing the players who will make up the 2012 Florida Gators football team this season.
Each day, we’ll count off another scholarship player until the Florida football season officially begins Sept. 1 against Bowling Green in The Swamp.
Today, we take a look at junior safety Matt Elam.
Elam originally chose to come to Gainesville over Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Tennessee, and West Virginia. His coach in high school, and assistant in the scholarship selection process, was none other than Florida alum Jack Daniels.
Florida’s 2009 Mr. Football was so highly touted coming out of high school, Scout.com had him listed as the No. 1 safety and No. 10 overall prospect in the nation.
Elam was always a hard hitter, racking up more than 200 tackles over his final two years at Dwyer High School in Palm Beach County.
He was a defensive star, but beyond that, Elam was versatility personified, rushing for 1,883 yards and 27 touchdowns his senior season alone.
Four of those touchdowns and 187 of those yards came in his team’s 4A state championship victory against Niceville, leading to him being named to the Parade High School All-America Squad.
Like most players who line up in the defensive backfield, Elam is a little shorter than his offensive counterparts at a listed 5-foot-10.
Size isn’t everything. Elam is easily one of the hardest hitters in the program, and he has never been intimidated by the big stage and weekly match-ups within the SEC. In fact, as a wide-eyed true freshman in the rebuilding year of 2010, he appeared in all 13 games. Just last season, he was one of only five Gators to start all 13 games, solidifying his position as one of the best safeties in the country.
Elam possesses elite speed and power. His natural gifts combined with a fearless tenacity eventually resulted in his leading the team in tackles for loss (11), pass breakups (seven), and forced fumbles (two). He finished second on the team in total tackles with 78 in 2011.
Whether he is blitzing off the corner or dropping back into pass coverage, Elam has proven he has the combination of speed, size, and power to dominate both at the BCS level and beyond.
What to Expect
The junior is now one of the most experienced players coach Will Muschamp has on his defense.
While Elam has made a name for himself as one of the big men on campus, his efforts over his first two seasons for the Gators have not gone unnoticed nationally, either.
Elam has been named to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list for the nation’s top defensive back and the Bronko Nagurski Award watch list for the nation’s best overall defensive player headed into the 2012 season.
Expect to see Florida’s best defensive back all over the field, in every game, from opening day in just a few weeks’ time through the team’s bowl game come December.
After that, expect to see him on TV collecting some hardware for his individual efforts. Eventually, Elam will be playing on Sundays, not Saturdays.