Honey Badger's legacy

Tyrann Mathieu had an up-and-down experience at LSU, ending in dismissal

Updated: August 12, 2012, 4:14 PM ET
By Gary Laney | GeauxTigerNation

BATON ROUGE, La. -- It was just three days before Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal from LSU's football team Friday that John Chavis, LSU's venerated defensive coordinator, lauded the Bednarik Award winner's selflessness as a teammate at LSU's media day.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Howie McCormick/Icon SMITyrann Mathieu had a knack for making the big play during his time at LSU.
He recalled the Arkansas game last season when, with the Tigers needing somebody to step in to play at the injury-depleted free safety position, Mathieu stepped up to the challenge. Not only did he play a spectacular defensive game in his first-ever snaps at free safety -- a team-high eight tackles, two forced fumbles, one recovered -- he also returned two punts for touchdowns in the 41-17 win.

Step up to sacrifice for the team? Heck, the Honey Badger stepped up to thrive for the team.

That was Mathieu's LSU career in a nutshell: He was so competitive and driven, Les Miles and his staff could trust him to take on the most difficult of tasks on the field.

At the end of the day, however, he could not be counted on to do the most basic thing: stay out of trouble off the field. He was dismissed from the team for violating team rules less than a year after he was suspended for a game -- in the middle of a season where he'd be a Heisman Trophy finalist and the Bednarik winner.

Mathieu's ascent to college football superstardom was as unlikely as his fall was unexpected.

He was a three-star prospect coming out of New Orleans' St. Augustine High School in 2010, a 5-foot-9 cornerback many deemed a bit short to be a college star.

But in an LSU program not afraid to use true freshmen, Mathieu immediately found a role on the team as a young player. Playing as a nickelback in LSU's long-yardage defensive packages, he showed a predator's closing speed and a natural instinct for making a play on the ball.

He made 57 tackles, but what caught people's attention was his knack for taking the ball away. He had two interceptions as a freshman, but also forced a school-record five fumbles and recovered three. He also broke up a team-high seven passes despite not playing every down.

He saved his best for the Cotton Bowl by forcing two fumbles, recovering one, picking off a pass and getting a sack, earning Defensive Player of the Game honors in the win over Texas A&M.

That made him a star before he ever became a full-time starter at cornerback as a sophomore. Early in the season, the "Honey Badger" nickname was attached to him after an LSU fan took the audio from a funny viral video about a wild animal who "takes what he wants" and attached it to some Mathieu highlights.

Chavis loved it and playfully teased Mathieu about it. Soon, it stuck.

By then, a persona was born. Mathieu had taken to wearing a dyed-blonde faux-hawk haircut and talked a lot, both on the field and on Twitter. He was no longer an unknown recruit, he was a trash-talking Honey Badger with the craziest haircut in college football since Brian Bosworth.

He lived up to the hype. He had two interceptions again, but also forced six more fumbles and recovered five more. His responsibilities increased as the faith in his play increased.

He became one of the nation's top punt returners, averaging 15.6 a return, including two run back for touchdowns. He also scored on an interception return and a punt return. He was also versatile enough to start at cornerback, but could slide back to nickel on passing downs.

He was never as dominant as the Arkansas game where he was asked to take on yet another new role. It was a key peformance for Mathieu becoming the first defensive back invited to New York as a Heisman finalist since Charles Woodson in 1997.

Stardom seemed to come with a price. It was shortly after the "Honey Badger" persona was born that Mathieu and two teammates were suspended for the Auburn game. After the season, he developed a habit of going off on Twitter, first a tweet war with Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, then rants against media reports that dared suggest he was overrated.

He started August camp off limits to the media. He finally got in front of the mics at LSU's media day on Tuesday and admitted he struggled a bit with how to deal with his Twitter life.

"I'm just going to follow what Coach Miles said because he knows best," he said.

Three days later, it came out he hadn't followed his own advice.

The player known for taking what he wants had it all taken away and has no one to blame but himself.

Gary Laney | email

Reporter, GeauxTigerNation