Posted: 1:31 pm Thursday, December 31st, 2009
By Jason Lieser
–Updated, 12/31, 8:23 p.m.–
The most telling indicator of Dwyer linebacker Matt Elam’s true feelings came when he saw University of Florida coach Urban Meyer’s number pop up on his cell phone this week.
Elam let it kick to voicemail. Twice.
He committed to the Gators more than a year ago, but in the wake of Meyer’s resignation on Saturday and subsequent change of mind the next day, Elam grew unsettled and announced Thursday he is committed to play for Florida State.
“I felt like he came back, basically, to save the recruits,” Elam said. “If I would have got there and he would have left, that would have been terrible. I don’t want to take that chance.
“He told me (on Saturday), ‘I’m going to still be around the program and I’m going to help find a new head coach,’ then the next day it’s something else. It’s fishy. I just didn’t understand that.”
Elam, a two-time Lou Groza award winner as the Palm Beach County Player of the Year and one of the nation’s elite high school recruits, has completed the necessary work to graduate a semester early from Dwyer and said he will enroll at Florida State in time for spring practices.
Meyer coached Elam’s older brother Abram at Notre Dame and has known the family for a decade. Given their friendship, Elam said he was upset that Meyer did not warn him prior to announcing his resignation Saturday.
At a press conference the following day in New Orleans, Meyer said he changed his mind and planned to coach the Gators in 2010, but Elam, who’s No. 1 on The Big Board, was unconvinced.
In fact, all three of Dwyer’s Florida commits questioned their future after Meyer’s announcement, but Robert Clark and Gerald Christian said they will follow through and enroll early.
Clark is a defensive back and wide receiver, while Christian expects to play tight end. They teamed with Elam, who projects as a safety, to drive Dwyer to a state championship this year.
If Elam enrolls at Florida State — the spring semester begins Wednesday — the Seminoles are in line to land four prized seniors from this area.
Also committing to Florida State, along with Elam, are Treasure Coast linebacker Jeff Luc and wide receivers Greg Dent (Glades Central) and De’Joshua Johnson (Pahokee).
All four are ranked among the area’s top 13 recruits and were pursued by major programs.
“We’re going to be back on top in a little bit,” Johnson said of the Seminoles. “We’ll probably be in the national championship in two or three years. We’ve got the talent now.”
Elam’s decision caused a stir nationwide and in his inner circle.
Hours after he e-mailed Seminoles recruiting coordinator James Coley and called coach Jimbo Fisher Thursday afternoon, Elam’s name was the 10th most searched term on Google.com and major sports media outlets around the country reported his switch.
His mother, Addie Elam-Lewis, and Dwyer coach Jack Daniels were slightly less excited.
Elam-Lewis said she was disappointed by the breakdown in her family’s relationship with Meyer and did not necessarily agree that Florida State was the best fit for him.
“I think I am disappointed because I liked not only Coach Meyer, but Florida as well,” Elam-Lewis said. “Of course I’m going to support Matt in whatever decision he makes, but I just wish he had stuck with Florida even though he’s uncertain about the coaching.”Daniels, who pointed out that Elam is unlikely to show up for classes anywhere until after he plays in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 9 in San Antonio, said it is too early to assume Elam’s choice is final.
He committed to Florida in October 2008, but seemed to waver this fall after trips to Florida State, West Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia. He reaffirmed his pledge to the Gators following a two-hour conversation with Meyer three months ago, but continued visiting other campuses.
He took an official trip to Tallahassee for Florida State’s game against North Carolina State on Oct. 31, but said in mid-December the Gators could count on him joining the team.
“I wouldn’t put it in stone until he enrolls,” Daniels said.
When Elam reassessed his options this week, Florida State prevailed because it presented an opportunity to play early and be part of what he believes will be an impressive resurgence over the upcoming seasons. The Seminoles, who face West Virginia in the Gator Bowl on Friday, are 29-22 over the past four seasons.
Long-time coach Bobby Bowden is retiring after Friday’s game and will be replaced by Jimbo Fisher.
“Florida State can be back,” Elam said, “and I want to make a difference in that.”