Remember the “Honey Badger,” the LSU safety who seemingly ruined his NFL career because he could not stop smoking marijuana? Remember how he was ridiculed when he was kicked off the No. 1 team in the country, how he seemed to be the sad example of talent wasted?
Well, look at him now. Tyrann Mathieu is a star safety for the Arizona Cardinals, one of the league’s top defenders. He missed the Atlanta Falcons game last week because of injury, one reason the Falcons were able to pass the ball so well.
Mathieu could miss a few more games with the broken thumb. But he’s already established himself in his second season as a force on the field and reliable off of it.
He goes by his name now, not the moniker because, while catchy, it symbolizes a time in his life that he regrets.
It took losing his college career and the threat of a pro career for Mathieu to smarten up.
“I didn’t have everything together back in college,” he said to SI.com when he arrived in Arizona. “I had everything together as far as football, but when it came to my social life, my personal life, I didn’t have everything intact. I didn’t have my emotions intact. Spiritually, I wasn’t intact.
“Once you take football away, you are able to work on the person. These last six months, that is all I had was Tyrann the person. I attacked the person, I attacked my issues. . . Back when I was the Honey Badger, I didn’t have everything intact. Going forward, I am going to focus on being Tyrann Mathieu and that is the person I want to control right now.”
Coach Bruce Arians said: “He’s a good kid. . . he knew his mistakes, owned up to his mistakes and he was just looking for an opportunity. The football part spoke for itself, and he’s been nothing but a dream to coach ever since.”
Mathieu’s case of taking advantage of his opportunity comes at a time when Ray Rice is seeking a second chance, too. The cases are different but the same in this way: They are talented athletes who made mistakes. Mathieu’s errors hurt him; Rice’s actions hurt his wife, making some feel he should not set foot on an NFL field again as a player.
Mathieu shows that a second chance can be a real life-saver. . . if handled properly. He went into rehab, moved by himself to Florida where he cleared his head and lungs and committed himself to a better life.
That better life meant no drugs, understanding that if he stayed true to that personal mandate, the NFL was his to be had. To this point, Mathieu has been on point. He’s the playmaker scouts projected him to be.
Rice is a proven football commodity who surely has been scared straight. He’s paid a penance. And for those looking for examples of second-chancers who kept it together, look to Mathieu. That’s something few would have even considered less than two years ago.