Elam, a U.S. Army All-American, is rated the No. 11 defensive tackle in the nation by Scout. The 6-foot-5, 360-pounder chose Kentucky over Alabama during a press conference at his school. He also had offers from traditional powers like Notre Dame, Ohio State and Tennessee.
"It's been a crazy process, many hectic days and exciting ones for me and my family and my coaches, but it's all coming to a close now," said Elam, who took a blue UK helmet from the table at which he was seated and wore it briefly after making his announcement, a huge grin displayed behind the facemask.
Instead of announcing his commitment to UK earlier this month at the nationally-televised all-star game in San Antonio, Elam decided to take some additional visits to both Alabama and Kentucky. The most recent was an unofficial visit last weekend in Lexington, which may have ultimately made the difference for the Cats.
He informed Stoops of his decision on Tuesday. "He went crazy when I told him," Elam said. "He said I can't really say anything (due to NCAA rules) but I want to tell the whole world. His wife came in there, and I can't really tell you what he said, but he just went crazy."
Elam also let fellow in-state recruit Drew Barker, a four-star quarterback from Conner High School who was one of UK's January enrolees, know on Wednesday.
"I was playing with Drew. I said, 'I'm going to Bama. Please don't be mad at me,'" Elam said. "He said, 'Oh, I'm not mad. I'm going to support you wherever.' I said, 'Nah, I'm going to UK,' and he got excited and said we're going to change things (at Kentucky). We're definitely going to change things."
Elam cited his relationship with Stoops and the UK staff as perhaps the main factor in his final decision.
"I just feel a great bond with them and want to help them out," he said. "... It comes down to relationships. I think that's what put UK over the top."
Asked if he could have seen himself picking Kentucky prior to the arrival of Stoops last year, Elam said flatly: "No sir. Not at all."
But it was far from an easy decision.
"It was definitely hard to turn down Alabama," Elam said of the perennial SEC powerhouse. "It's just a mecca of football... just the program that they have and the players that they have. I love what they're doing down there. I hope they keep it up."
The Crimson Tide made a last-ditch effort to swing Elam's decision their way by visiting the high school on Thursday morning. With six days remaining until National Signing Day, Alabama may continue to pursue Elam, but he said he considers his recruitment closed.
"I'm definitely 100 percent committed to the University of Kentucky," Elam said.
"What I've told people all along is that Matt's got to do what's best for Matt Elam," said John Hardin coach Chad Lewis. "You know, he was pulled so many different directions throughout this past year. ‘You should go here. You should go there.' And the bottom line is he had to make that decision based on what was best for him. And he feels like he's more comfortable with coach Stoops and that coaching staff there. He talked about those relationships that he built with the University of Kentucky staff, and I feel like that is why, ultimately, he chose the University of Kentucky."
Elam said he definitely expects to play as a freshman at Kentucky. He feels like he has the size and strength to compete immediately in the SEC, but conceded that he needs to continue working on conditioning and transforming his body. He weighed as much as 380 at John Hardin, but the UK staff would like to see him in the 330-340 range.
With his commitment to Kentucky, Elam becomes one of the crown jewels in what many longtime observers believe to be the strongest recruiting class in the history of the program. The Cats have 28 commitments -- seven of which have already signed and enrolled early -- and have risen to No. 16 in the latest Scout national team rankings.
Elam is among the top-rated prospects to ever come out of the Bluegrass State and give a verbal commitment to UK. Quarterback Tim Couch and defensive end Dennis Johnson were each considered the top offensive and defensive players in their respective classes when they signed with the Cats. Linebacker Micah Johnson was rated No. 2 at linebacker before coming to Lexington.