The first time I saw Tyrann Mathieu play under the bright lights of Tiger Stadium I couldn’t believe my eyes. How could a 5’-9” cornerback shutdown top SEC receiver talent week after week? He forced more fumbles than any player in LSU history and he did it in just two years. He was one of the most electrifying college defensive players ever to step onto the field. Tyrann was not heavily recruited out of high school and LSU only offered him a scholarship after their first three choices at cornerback didn’t pan out. He truly came out of nowhere and was a Heisman finalist during the 2011 college football season. He also won the Chuck Bednarik Award for best defensive player of the year in 2011. Tyrann gained national attention when CBS broadcaster Verne Lundquist started using the nickname LSU fans had already given him… “Honey Badger” because he took what he wanted and didn’t care about the consequences.
As quickly as his star rose in college football it fell to earth just as quickly in 2012 when LSU coach Les Miles announced that Tyrann Mathieu was suspended from the team for violating team policy. Tyrann had repeatedly tested positive for Marijuana. That year he entered a drug rehabilitation program and never played another minute of college football. Tyrann had hit rock bottom. His bright future had gone dark. Like so many other fallen stars before him he was expected to fade into obscurity. Everyone but Tyrann Mathieu thought his football career was over.
Tyrann never cared for the nickname “Honey Badger” but there couldn’t be a more fitting moniker. Growing up in the Central City area of New Orleans had made him tough as nails. As a boy his mother was not around and his father was in jail for a good portion of his childhood. Tyrann was raised by his grandparents and other members of his extended family. His grandfather died when he was five and Tyrann was then adopted by his Aunt and Uncle who raised him as one of their own.
He dealt with his drug addiction the way he dealt with opposing players on the football field, with relentless drive and tenacity. Tyrann kicked his drug habit and proceeded to get into the best shape of his life. Through hard work he overcame his drug addiction and was granted eligibility for the NFL draft in November of 2012. He impressed scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine and was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the 69th overall pick in the 3rd round in April of 2013. Many critics thought the Cardinals were wasting their time with a trouble ridden player.
However, Tyrann thrived in his rookie NFL season playing free safety and corner for the Cardinals alongside his former LSU teammate and good friend Patrick Peterson. Once again despite his small stature he forced fumbles, made game winning tackles and intercepted Drew Brees in the New Orleans Superdome. The mesmerizing ball hawk skills he displayed at LSU came shinning through as he gained a reputation for being a defensive playmaker in the NFL. Matt Miller of the Bleacher Report named him the 3rd Best Corner in the NFL. His star began to rise again but it was bittersweet as Tyrann suffered a season ending injury with only a few games left to play. He tore both the ligaments in his left knee while returning a free kick.
Once again Tyrann Mathieu stands at the crossroads facing yet another challenge he will have to overcome. Fans and haters alike will be watching closely to see how he has dealt with an entire summer of rehabilitation after knee surgery. Will he triumph again or will this be the end of the “Honey Badger” in the NFL? Heat and pressure are needed to make diamonds and Tyrann has experience plenty of both. Very few players come back strong from this type of injury but my money is still on Tyrann Mathieu!
About the Author of “What Ever Became of the “Honey Badger?” The Rise and Fall of Tyrann Mathieu”:
Trip Albagdadi is a regular guest contributor to the iM Sports Blog. His work has been featured in numerous online as well as traditional print publications.
“Tiger Stadium at Night” – Billy Metcalf Photography via photopin cc
“Tyrann Mathieu “Honey Badger?”” – Arno Meintjes Wildlife via photopin cc
“Tyrann Mathieu Arizona Cardinals” – wxcasterphx via photopin cc