Surrounded by the sound of jazz bands in street parades, bars, restaurants, crazed fans and where the smell of Cajun food wafts through Bourbon Street, Tyrann Mathieu, who has tenderly become known as the “Honey Badger,” returns back to his native town. Born and raised in New Orleans, he has a chance to help lead No. 1 LSU to a win against Alabama in Monday night’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

There is a sense Mathieu, winner of the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s best defensive player as a sophomore, is the top player in the nation, although he was only named a Heisman Trophy finalist. When he was busted, when he was caught for being a rockhead and recklessly smeared his Heisman chances, Mathieu, a top-ranked LSU cornerback, was suspended for failing a university-mandated drug test – as well as Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon. With painstaking determination, willing to redeem himself and mellow as a player – all while he had proven to the nation that he was widely the most dangerous, best athlete in college football, if not the nation, he bounced back from adversity and excelled better than ever.

Every now and again an athlete is caught in a drug bust, not to harbor even bits of their image. But if anyone has ever come close in cleaning a near-damaged reputation, Mathieu has been fortunate to rekindle respectability when he almost recklessly lost social approval as an unparalleled defensive back/punt returner. He’s doing it for a better life, putting the past behind him and willing to move forward as a changed man by learning from his mistakes, regardless of what the naysayers think of him. It’s his turn to shine, as expected, in a game where he can nationally quiet any cynics and finally prevail on the brightest stage – encircled by all the heavy debates on whether he’s the best college football player in the country.

To answer your question: Yes!

That’s what LSU wants us to believe and, in truth, he’s established as the nation’s top defender given the premise of many highly classifying him as one of the greatest players LSU has cultivated and ever seen, at least in this generation come to speak. The hard reality he dealt with growing up, under the toughest circumstances as a kid, was having no parents and eventually shed tears when he spoke to Tyra Mathieu, his biological mother. As a young boy, just as he is now, Mathieu was the best player on the field and strongly supported by Tyrone and Sheila Mathieu, his adoptive parents. He’s not an ordinary person, and during a difficult childhood, he lived a tough life but had football to motivate him – and now today – he’s driven by his family calamities.

He talks with emotion, and he’ll be playing with a heavy heart when, in fact, it’s an emotional homecoming game for him. As always, Mathieu will leave his emotions on the field, a place where he can release his bitterness and play with plenty of ferocity which he has done so well for much of the season. With the nation watching, being that he’s the biggest curiosity – the one player we’ve kept our eyes on all season – Mathieu is seeking to win a national title, and walk away victorious in his home town.

The audience, captivated by the Honey Badger with his relentless and violent style, may witness an once-in-a-lifetime You Tube video that features him on the national stage stripping the ball from an opposing player, retrieving and returning it for a touchdown to make ESPN Sportscenter Top 10 plays by the next morning. As for being the story, the nickname has become a market crusade for everything that has been sold with the Honey Badger trademark – including Tigers fans wearing T-Shirts which read, “Honey Badger” or even local bars in Baton Rouge serving a drink called the Honey Badger, a shot of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Whiskey poured into a glass of beer.

So here he is, from a painful upbringing to a life experience. At LSU, he has quickly risen as a superstar in a partying-loving environment where he is the most likable figure in the state, presumably after becoming the most explosive defensive back in the country.

It’s almost possible to believe that Mathieu has laid a claim on the field, planting the seeds for an undying legacy in a popular culture that engages in football. It’s easy to make the argument that Mathieu has become the player he is today from a troubled childhood, a point in his life when he struggled and seriously never had unconditional love by his parents.

It’s not just that he never had a mother by his side, but that he never had his biological father, Darrin Hayes, who has been incarcerated for much of Tyrann’s life. Fortunately, after spending a few years of his life with his grandparents, he had a close bond with his grandfather. In the early years of his life, Lorenzo Mathieu raised Tyrann, and after he died of a malicious illness in 1997, Tyrann’s aunt and uncle adopted their nephew, along with their three children.

But he’s now a standout sophomore and has developed into a household name, with the nickname Honey Badger – the moniker from a You Tube video. And by many, he is a ferocious animal – which makes sense, given that he was named the SEC defensive player of the year unanimously and earned his right to be an eligible All-American, a gifted 5-foot-9, 160-pound kid with electrifying speed, excellent vision and a relentless style of play.

The Tigers have been, clearly, college football’s best team this season and head coach Les Miles has talked in clichés about his top player, but more than ever, has mentored and groomed every single one of his players. This is a winning team, partly because Mathieu led LSU with 70 tackles, and had six forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries, finishing sixth in the SEC in that category. This year, if you watched, he was third among FBS players with a 16.2-yard average on punt returns.

So now, all he is missing is a national title. Maybe Monday night is when he’ll win it all. Maybe he can finally hoist the crystal football and call it a well-accomplished, successful year.
Written by Jonathan Mathis, Columnist (Archive/RSS)

An aspiring sports journalist, a sports columnist for three sports sites. Sports Judge is all sports. Follow @Jon9685


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