It's almost a tradition at this point that Florida will roster one of the next top cornerbacks in the nation.
Dating back to players such as Richard Fain (1989-90) and Lito Sheppard (1999-01) to, most recently, CJ Henderson, who is coming off of a sensational NFL debut performance, the Gators have always had some of the top dogs in the game.
Now, Florida expects to have yet another player of that caliber in Kaiir Elam and he appears to be up for the challenge.
“Those guys are a big inspiration to me," Elam told reporters today via Zoom when asked about the great defensive backs that have come out of UF. "I’ll watch their highlights and see how they play and the swagger they play with. I try to model my game after them.
"But I can’t really compare myself to those guys. I don’t want to set a limit for myself because I want to be the greatest. For me to say I want to be like them, would be like a very – not negative – just something that I don’t want to do. I just want to be the greatest. That’s my main focus right now.”
To become the greatest cornerback in UF history, Elam will have to dig deep, perfect things that others may only ever hope to perfect. Technique, size, speed, agility, everything will come into play when going up against the best receivers in college as well as the pros.
Over the offseason, Elam worked hard, able to take lessons from his father, Abram Elam, who played defensive back at Kent State before going on to have a fruitful eight-year career in the NFL, ultimately stepping away from the game following the conclusion of the 2012 season.
Due to Florida's defensive scheme, the team will run plenty of man coverage, something that requires laser-like focus and elite technique in order to play at the highest level, that's something Henderson was able to perfect on his way out of the door, and something Elam is striving to 'perfect' now.
"I watched a lot of film on who they say the top corners are in the NFL and college football to try and add some of those things to my game," Elam said when asked how his offseason training went.
"I took pride in making sure I was in the best shape on the field, so I did a lot of running, a lot of speed training and a lot of corner work with my father, Abram [Elam]. And so, that’s basically what I did to try and prepare myself for this season and help my team win a national championship.”
Elam comes from a football-centric family. We mentioned his father, Abram, but his uncle, Matt Elam, played at Florida from 2010-12 and went on to have a four-year career in the NFL after being selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Watching NFL talent is nothing new to the true sophomore, and he spent most of his time studying big-time NFL talent such as Jalen Ramsey, Patrick Peterson and Stephon Gilmore, arguably the three best cornerbacks in the NFL today.
“My biggest goal every day is just to get better, keep elevating my game, to keep learning and continue to be coachable, and then everything else will probably play [out] on its own," said Elam.
"Not worrying about the media, not worrying about what people say. It’s whatever my coaches ask me to do, I’m going to do it 110 percent and make plays. That’s my biggest goal. Whatever God has planned for me, that’s going to happen."
Elam's praise in the media is well deserved. During his freshman campaign, though he only started five games while playing behind Henderson and redshirt junior cornerback Marco Wilson, he showcased elite athleticism and the traits one would look for in a true shut-down cornerback.
According to Pro Football Focus, in 2019 Elam ended the season with the fourth-best grade from a true freshman cornerback at 87.8 while compiling six combined pass breakups and interceptions, allowing only 10 catches on 23 targets. That sort of production is elite, something the Gators are hoping to see more of this coming season.
Entering the year, Elam will likely be paired with Wilson on the boundary, a combination the sophomore cornerback says "can be very good.” A true student of the game, Elam worked out with Wilson during the summer, picking his brain in an attempt to become an even better player moving forward.
Ultimately, Elam, who told the media today that he runs "faster" than a 4.40 40-yard-dash, could become one of the better cornerbacks in UF history, his plan, though is to be a lot more than that.
"I want to be the greatest."