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January 4, 2010

New era for Elam, Florida State

MORE: Army All-American Bowl coverage

SAN ANTONIO - It's almost over for Matt Elam, the recruitment of wild speculation and rumors, one filled with heartache and headaches for the five-star safety from West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer.

Elam kept Florida fans on edge for more than a year after his commitment in October 2008 by flirting with other schools, taking some visits and keeping things interesting.

On New Year's Eve, Elam switched his commitment from Florida to in-state rival Florida State, the ultimate poke in the eye for Gators' fans. But Elam said he wasn't being malicious. The state's top player by Rivals.com said he felt it was the best decision in light of the uncertainty surrounding coach Urban Meyer's health.

Elam made something clear Sunday here at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl: He and Meyer have had a lengthy relationship dating back to the days when Meyer recruited Elam's brother, Abram, to Notre Dame in the 90s. Without him at Florida - or with his return unknown - Elam didn't feel comfortable enrolling early, which he plans to do after this week at Florida State.

"It's tough, man," Elam said. "I made a commitment and I felt like I had to look around at some things just in case something might happen or pop up. Something did pop up. I didn't feel too good about it. I felt like if I got in (Meyer) would have left and I would have been really mad and upset. I decided to just go somewhere I can make a difference.

"(Meyer) was the only reason I was at Florida. I could say I was more committed to him than I was committed to Florida. That was a big issue. I didn't want to get in there and he ended up leaving and I didn't build a relationship with any other coaches. I just had a relationship with him. That would have hurt me bad. I decided to go someplace and make a difference."

That place was Tallahassee.

Florida State is piecing together a monster class and gobbling up big-time in-state players at a rapid pace. The Seminoles now have Elam, top-rated cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, four-star wide receiver Kenny Shaw and No. 1 inside linebacker Jeff Luc headlining their class.

"It's a new era," Elam said. "The offense is young and powerful. This is going to be the recruiting class to make a difference."

Stability played a big part in Elam's decision. Jimbo Fisher will coach Florida State next season. Meyer said "in his gut" he believes he'll coach the Gators but Elam's gut didn't have the same feeling.

Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said Elam's move is a big step proving Fisher can restore Florida State to national prominence. It won't be the end of Florida, though.

"For Florida State it means that a big position need has been filled," Farrell said. "It's getting a local kid who has a lot of national juice and it's a validation of Jimbo Fisher's ability to recruit, saying to Florida we're going to recruit with you. We're going to recruit the best kids.

"For Florida, they're young in the secondary already. They have some other guys who can fill that role at safety including guys in this class. It's not a huge loss. It does speak to the stability of the program after Meyer's decision and it's an example that kids are sketchy about whether he'll be there or not."

If one thing swayed Elam's decision it was his concern that Meyer wouldn't be back and he'd be playing for interim coach Steve Addazio or someone else if Florida decided to hire a new coach. Meyer has told recruits he'd be back in August. It was a risk Elam was not willing to take.

"I was devastated," Elam said. "I wanted to go to Florida, but I didn't want to get in that situation. OK, Urban is sick and then I get there and he might get even more sick and he might leave and I didn't want to be there without him. I made my decision to go somewhere else. I built a good relationship with the Florida State coaches.

"(Meyer) called me that same night he was stepping down and he told me he was still going to be around the program and how he was going to help find a head coach. The next day he said he was going to take (a leave of absence). I didn't get that so I was thinking that week. I was going to stay the next semester (at Dwyer) and wait it out to see what happens, but I felt like I shouldn't waste my time. I wanted to get in and get ready to compete."

Elam's decision was not made lightly. He talked to his brother, his mother, his coach at Dwyer, Jack Daniels. Teammate Gerald Christian, a four-star tight end and Florida commit, said Elam "has to do what's best for him."

"I would like him to go (to Florida) but he has to make his decision," Christian said.

Fellow Florida commit Jaylen Watkins added: "He did it for a reason. What he felt was best was going to Florida State so you can't get mad at him. It is his future. If his hunch is he'd do best at Florida State then I wish the best for him."

Rumors of another switch have persisted just like the entirety of Elam's recruitment. A hot one making the rounds was that Elam was once again reconsidering things. But on Sunday he denied any surprises are in store.

What Elam said he wants is stability - and for recruiting to be over. It's been stressful and taxing 15 months for Elam and now he is finished and just wants to play football.

"I'm so happy it's over with," Elam said. "I'm ready to play. I'm so happy. It's overwhelming. It's tough."


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