FAIRHOPE, Ala. -- This week is supposed to be about college footballs best seniors. (Thats why its called the Senior Bowl.)
But as practice got under way ahead of Saturdays all-star gala, an underclassman with a great nickname, gobs of talent and a checkered past was Mondays center of attention.
A year ago, Tyrann Mathieu the Honey Badger: was arguably college footballs brightest and most explosive star. But these days, hes trying to convince NFL teams he simply deserves a place in the league.
Mathieu, the dynamic cornerback from LSU, is the ultimate red-flag case. Les Miles kicked him off the team just before his junior season, reportedly after failing multiple drug tests. Two months later, Mathieu hit rock bottom, arrested on charges of marijuana possession. His collegiate career was over, and his pro prospects on life support.
But Mathieu says hes now clean, stable and worthy of a chance.
Im healthy, Mathieu said Monday. Everythings in my past. Im just going to let that stay there and just try to move forward and keep bettering myself.
I think honesty is going to be my best friend in the next few months, he added. Im just trying to be honest and as open as possible, look those guys look in my eyes and let those guys know Im speaking the truth.
Mathieu, projected as a sixth-round draft pick by CBSSports.com, says all the right things. But he knows words alone wont sway skeptical league executives, usually loathe to risk draft picks on players with character issues.
Thats why Mathieu has consented to weekly drug testing to prove he has beaten his drug abuse issues. He has spent the past few months in Boca Raton, living and training with Patrick Patterson Sr. the father of his former LSU teammate Patrick Jr. who has helped Mathieu get his life in order.
Mathieu has been through drug treatment, which he says has made him a much better person, spiritually, mentally, emotionally.
And with his demons apparently subdued, if not beaten, Mathieu and South Florida-based agent Patrick Lawlor decided now is the time to rehabilitate something else: his image.
Earlier this month, Mathieu agreed to an in-depth interview with ESPN and was open and accessible to fans and reporters Monday.
At the very least, the Dolphins are intrigued by his potential. Team scouts had casual conversations with Mathieu prior to this week, and the organization had a meeting planned with him Monday evening.
If Mathieu can stay clean, theres plenty to like. He was college footballs defensive player of the year and a Heisman Trophy finalist his sophomore season. Although just 5-9, Mathieu created 14 turnovers in just 26 games with the Tigers. He also averaged 15.6 yards per punt return, bringing two back for touchdowns.
He probably projects as a nickel corner in the NFL, and the Dolphins might be a good fit. They allowed 248 passing yards per game last year and forced just 16 turnovers, fewest in franchise history.
Im a Dolphin fan; they need some excitement, Lawlor said. He is a kid who will bring total excitement, not only to the team, but to the fan base.
That playmaking panache earned him the Honey Badger moniker in Baton Rouge. But on Monday outside of Mobile, Mathieu was just Tyrann, hoping for a second chance.
What I went through is something I put on myself, Mathieu said. I cant blame anybody or put it on anybody, not even the circumstance or environment.
I think its something thats definitely going to make me stronger going forward.