2013 NFL Draft: Mathieu can reboot career - and life - in Arizona
Tyrann Mathieu, who has a shocking ability to cause turmoil on and off the field, landed in a good place with the Arizona Cardinals to restart his career.
Former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who has a shocking ability to cause turmoil on and off the field, will now try to restart his football career with the Arizona Cardinals, who took him with the 69th overall pick in the NFL Draft on Friday.
Nicknamed "Honey Badger," the 5-foot-9, 186-pound Mathieu exploded onto the national scene in 2011 with play so spectacular that he became a Heisman Trophy finalist. But he imploded in 2012 when he was unable to control his personal life, failed tests for synthetic marijuana at least 10 times and was kicked off the LSU football team.
It was a difficult but necessary move by LSU coach Les Miles, who continued to support Mathieu as a friend even after booting him off the team.
"He's really a great kid with a great heart, but he needs to find his way in life," Miles said.
Mathieu was last arrested in October for possession of marijuana, and his attempts to straighten out his life since then have been very public, very inconsistent and extremely emotional for Mathieu, who says he has been clean since that last arrest but admits it all feels like a "wild roller-coaster ride."
At Arizona, Mathieu will rejoin former LSU teammate Patrick Peterson, who has helped Mathieu during the last year, both physically and emotionally, and may be a steadying force in this move to the NFL.
"I was filled with joy, it's been a long road ... a lot of ups and downs, but God is good," Mathieu told ESPN shortly after being drafted. "I spent a couple of months in Arizona around their facility. Finally to be a part of their family, and to do it with Patrick and Larry Fitzgerald -- people who can show me how to be a true professional, that's what I'm looking forward to the most.
"Seven months ago I didn't think I'd be in this situation. I had everything taken away from me. I kept pushing, I kept fighting. I'm just so happy that someone else had faith in me, that someone else believes in me. I understand my responsibility. I have to be a young leader. I regret where I've been in my past, but I'm glad I went through what I went through a year ago. So now I know what's the right way to go."
On the field, Mathieu's impact is startling, reminiscent of a small Troy Polamalu, the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back whose knack at disrupting plays is legendary in the NFL. In 2011, the diminutive Mathieu led LSU with 70 tackles, forced six fumbles and recovered five.
Mathieu's big-play ability was also evident on punt returns, as he ranked second in the nation with a 16.2-yard return average. He was named the SEC Championship Game MVP against Georgia after he returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown, made four solo tackles and recovered a fumble.
He was poised to build on that success in 2012 but was abruptly dismissed from the LSU program Aug. 10. After considering a transfer to a small college, Mathieu decided instead to enter the NFL Draft.
But his struggles, which dated literally back to his birth, continued. His mother gave him up at birth and his father is serving time for manslaughter. At first his grandparents raised him, and after they died he was adopted by an uncle and aunt.
He was able to hide in athletics and disguise his internal turmoil with a brave and upbeat front and likeable personality. But after being dismissed from LSU's football team, he had to confront his demons.
"Friends and even family were reinforcing the wrong lifestyle," he said. "Instead of taking charge of myself, I would just light up a blunt if there was stress. It was the way I always knew."
In a move to distance himself from longtime friends and influences, he moved to Delray Beach, Fla., and changed his cellphone number several times.
"I had to change everything about my life and it was very hard," he told ESPN earlier this month. "I had to reboot my life first and then focus on restarting my football career."
And now he can do that with the Arizona Cardinals.
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