Paul Hornung, one of the greatest football players ever at Notre Dame, helped honor a high school standout Tuesday that the Irish would love to have next season.
John Hardin High School defensive tackle Matt Elam, the five-star prospect who is considering Notre Dame, the University of Kentucky and Alabama in his high-profile recruitment, took the handoff from the Flaget High, Notre Dame and Green Bay Packers legend in accepting the Paul Hornung Award trophy, presented to Kentucky’s top high school player by the Louisville Quarterback Club.
Hornung is hoping that Elam, who is ranked the nation’s No. 7 overall prospect by 247Sports.com, chooses his alma mater.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any question that he’s going to be an All-American and that he’s going to be highly picked three or four years later as far as the NFL is concerned,” Hornung, 77, said during a luncheon at Big Spring Country Club. “We’ll be closely watching, and you know where I want him to go.”
He then drew laughter from the audience, saying, “If I can do anything to help, I’ll be glad to. They’re not going to (complain to) me if I do something out of line.”
Elam, a massive player at 6 feet 6 and 370 pounds, said he wasn’t too familiar with Hornung’s playing history until he won the award named after him and began to do some research.
“I looked him up and I saw MVP, and he went to the NFL, and I was like, ‘Man, this dude is legit,’ ” Elam said.
Elam said Hornung told him that playing at and earning a degree from Notre Dame can lead to a lifetime of opportunities.
“He was like, ‘I know that anywhere you go, if you come from Notre Dame they’ll hook you up,’ ” Elam said. “That was very good advice from him.”
He was pleasantly surprised and said he felt deserving of recognition because most player of the year awards go to offensive players. Elam had 86 tackles, including 19 for loss (four sacks), and blocked three kicks in helping John Hardin (11-3) reach the Class 5-A state semifinals.
“Eighty-six tackles, and that’s from being triple-teamed and quadruple-teamed sometimes and double-teamed every play,” he said. “I try to change the game every time I step on the field, and teams have to run away from me, and still getting almost 90 tackles in a season, that’s still pretty good.”
Elam, who will announce his college choice at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4, said UK, Alabama and Notre Dame are in a three-way tie.
He and his mother enjoyed an official visit to UK over the weekend in which he was joined by 15 UK commitments. The Wildcats went 2-10 in Mark Stoops’ first season but have the nation’s No. 13 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com.
“That’s what I really want, is for her to see what I see and how I feel about UK,” he said. “A lot of people are down on UK because their record isn’t that good, but I’m like, ‘It’s a rebuilding year. You can’t just change a program over a year.’ Auburn wasn’t doing too hot, South Carolina. But look at them now. … I feel like there is going to be change and UK, and sometimes I just want to be a part of that.”
UK freshmen defensive linemen Regie Meant and Jason Hatcher and junior ends Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree guided Elam during his campus visit.
“I feel like the defensive line is definitely incredible, and it is definitely (Southeastern Conference)-caliber with the Alabamas and everyone else,” he said. “I feel like that’s the strong point.”