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Baltimore Ravens' Matt Elam

Jan 28, 2014 02:20PM ● By Jake Russell
At an age early, Baltimore Ravens rookie safety Matt Elam identified football as his path to success. Elam didn’t start out with a lot of advantages. He grew up in a tough neighborhood in West Palm Beach, Fla., where his family endured two horrific tragedies. When he was eight, his 12-year-old sister Christina was murdered at a park near the family’s home. Nine years later, his brother Donald was also killed in the same park. Elam devoted his time to athletics, especially football. The University of Florida gave him a scholarship and he certainly made the most of the opportunity. He put together a stellar career in Gainesville and capped it off by earning All-American honors in 2012.

The 2013 Super Bowl champion Ravens drafted the 22-year-old hard-hitting safety with the last pick of the first round in last April’s NFL draft. Almost immediately, Baltimore tabbed the 5-foot, 10-inch, 210-pound Elam as a starter and he became a high-impact player in his rookie season.

We recently caught up with Elam, whose older brother Abram plays for the Kansas City Chiefs, and learned about his first year in the NFL and how important a role family has played in his life.

How did you stay on a straight path?

It was just me knowing, understanding that I’m tired of the frowns and the tears and the funerals and things like that. I was like, “I’m going to turn this around. I’m going to do this the right way.” I had great motivators and I had people who were always there for me. My mom, my brothers, my sisters. I was always motivated to do what I needed to do. I had my mind made up that I wanted to play professional football, so I worked hard at it.

Can you talk about why you wore number 22 in college?

That was my sister’s favorite number. I just wear it to remember her. I wore it in high school and college.

In addition to her, do you also play for your brother Donald?

I play for my whole family. Every time I do something, I think about my family. My family is always on my mind.

How much did you use football as a release?

I think football was my relief, being able to use the energy and being able to use it the right way instead of negatively. Being able to go out on the field, it gave me an edge. And my family. It made me realize how important family was by losing siblings. That’s why I go out and do it every day for my family, because they always have my back.

Your brother Abraham has played in the NFL for eight seasons. Have you leaned on him for advice?

I talk to him every day. He’s all I had coming into the league basically since I didn’t have an agent. He gave me a lot of good advice. The biggest thing is he told me how to take care of the body. The NFL can be tough on the body. We have also talked a lot about managing my money.

You represented yourself in contract negotiations. What are the pros and cons of being your own agent?

The pro is I save myself and my family a lot of money. That’s the biggest thing. Saving a lot of money without agent fees. It was just me getting knowledge from everywhere. All different types of sources. It’s all just a business. You have to approach it that way.

How excited were you to be drafted by the defending Super Bowl champions?

It was so exciting to have an opportunity to play for the World Champions. Having an opportunity to come in and do the great things that future Hall of Famer Ed Reed did. It was such a great feeling knowing you are coming here with guys that have the Super Bowl experience.

They know what it takes to win. I hear all the time how this place is different than a lot of others. The GM [Ozzie Newsome] is a genius. He makes the right decisions. I feel like this is such a great program.

What has been the biggest difference between the NFL and college football?

Speed really wasn’t the biggest thing. Communication was the biggest thing for me. It was just learning how to communicate faster.

What charities do you devote your time to and why?

Breast cancer charities. I had a close friend that had breast cancer. I also like giving back to kids. I know when I was growing up, I always wanted that role model to do things for me.

—Tom Worgo