Honey Badger does care
LSU's Tyrann Mathieu is still coming to grips with his own stardom
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Turns out, the sassy narrator of the viral video is wrong.
Try suggesting, as a couple of internet writers did this summer, that LSU's 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist is overrated. Mathieu took to Twitter to respond with gusto, going on rants that he's the best defensive player in college football.
Did he give a (bleep) about what was said about him? You better believe it.
Was it the right way to handle criticism? That part is still a work in progress for the junior from New Orleans/St. Augustine who, a season after becoming one of the great stories in college football, is still learning how to be a star.
For one, there's the whole social media thing.
"I'm working on my Twittering," Mathieu admitted Tuesday when he met with the media masses for the first time in August at LSU's media day (he had done a piece with our David Pollack a couple of days earlier). "It's tough sometimes. I'm just trying to be the best person I can be."
Until Tuesday, LSU had purposely kept Mathieu away from the media since the summer rants. Requests for interviews during the first five days of August camp were denied and he was left in Baton Rouge during SEC media days in mid-July at Hoover, Ala.
"I'm not sure [why]," Mathieu said when asked why he wasn't allowed with the media. "I just kind of go with whatever coach [Les Miles] wants to do and kind of agree with him."
For Miles, it's about teaching Mathieu how to handle the fame that now surrounds him as a player whose dynamic punt returns and penchant for creating sometimes spectacular turnovers on defense turned him into a college football sensation in a sophomore season where he won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player.
He's reaping the benefits of his rising celebrity while also having to deal with the trappings of success.
He can walk into a local mall in Baton Rouge and find T-shirts about the Honey Badger "taking what he wants" and when he walked into LSU's summer camp for high school players, there were more than a handful of attendees sporting Mathieu's signature hairstyle, the dyed blonde fade/faux hawk.
"I love that they support me," Mathieu said.
All that stuff, he adores.
On the other hand, there was the less-than-flattering light he was left in after engaging in a Twitter war with Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. For lesser players, it might not have caused a stir. For him, it was headline news, as were the rants against the media opinions.
No, it's not true that the Honey Badger doesn't care. To the contrary, he might care about these things too much.
"He need not be so insistent to please others," Miles said.
Instead, the LSU message tells Mathieu to stay focused on the things that make him a better player and his team better.
Not that it's ever been a problem with Mathieu.
The same spirit that makes him one who's fond of jawing with opponents on the field and motivates him to engage in a battle of tweets with a rival quarterback makes him a player who is willing to embrace challenges others might shy away from.
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis offered an example Tuesday.
When the Tigers headed for their regular-season finale against Arkansas last season, they went into the game without injured free safety Eric Reid or backup Craig Loston. Somebody needed to step in and Mathieu was the guy who was asked.
Mathieu answered the challenge with eight tackles and two forced fumbles, one he recovered, in a 41-17 win.
"I love moving around," he said. "Wherever the coaches need me to help us win, I'll play there."
"To help us win" is the key phrase for Mathieu. He does not shy away from personal goals, but in his mind there is a direct relationship between personal goals and team success.
To wit: Asked if he was thinking about making another run at a Heisman Trophy, Mathieu answered without hesitation:
"Absolutely," he said.
But how do you reconcile that ambition with team goals?
"You don't win the Heisman if your team isn't winning big."
Pretty good answer. If LSU wins, the Honey Badger might get to take what he wants too.
And that, Tyrann Mathieu certainly does care about.
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