Talented but troubled Tyrann Mathieu says he's changed his ways

LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (7) returning a punt

LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (7) returning a punt for a touchdown against Georgia during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game in Atlanta. (Dec. 3, 2011) (Credit: AP)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Forget about the "Honey Badger." From now on, it's Tyrann.

That's the message from Tyrann Mathieu, known as "Honey Badger" during his star-crossed career at LSU, which included on-field brilliance and being kicked off the team before last season for repeated positive tests for marijuana.

"I'm Tyrann right now," the 5-9 cornerback said Sunday as he prepared to perform for NFL general managers, coaches and team executives at the scouting combine. "If the Honey Badger sticks, it sticks. But right now, I'm focused on being Tyrann Mathieu."

Other than former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, who got caught up in an online hoax that exploded into a national story, Mathieu might be the most controversial player coming into this year's draft. His talent level is reflective of a high first-round pick; his off-field baggage suggests most teams won't be willing to commit to an early pick and a lucrative contract.

Mathieu is here to show teams he has changed his ways, and insists he has his priorities in order. He'll have plenty of convincing to do. He was suspended for one game during the 2011 season for violating team rules but still wound up as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Continued problems convinced LSU coach Les Miles to ban him before the 2012 season.

That wasn't the last of Mathieu's troubles; he was arrested last Oct. 26 in Baton Rouge for marijuana possession.

"I thought my bottom was when I got kicked out of school,'' Mathieu said, "but I think when I got arrested in October, that was a different bottom."

Mathieu insists he finally realized then that he needed to make some major changes to turn his life around. He decided to enroll in a drug rehab program in Houston. He also connected with several NFL defensive backs willing to help him. The group included Darrelle Revis of the Jets and former LSU stars Patrick Peterson (Cardinals) and Corey Webster (Giants).

"All those guys are pretty much my support system right now," Mathieu said. "I talk to them on a daily basis. They give me good advice."

Mathieu, who still sports a bleached-blond Mohawk hairstyle, said he'll try to persuade teams he has changed his ways.

"I decided to go to rehab, but this time, the rehab was for Tyrann," he said. "I just wasn't going to it for publicity because my school told me to go. I actually wanted to get my problem corrected."

He admits there will be skeptics.

"I'm not totally asking them to trust me right now," he said. "What I have asked is for them to give me an opportunity to play the game. I've had a lot of time to reflect on it, especially without football. It's really given me a different outlook on life, and it's just about being the right kind of person.

"I hold myself accountable for everything I've done, and in this past year it's been tough. At the end of the day, I want them to know that I'm a football player. I want to be a great teammate and I want to be the same leader on the field that I know I can be off the field."

Mathieu realizes his mistakes led to major consequences, especially when it comes to money. Asked how much they cost him, he replied, "Millions."

Not to worry, he said.

"I'm not focused on money right now," he said. "I just want to start playing football again. My whole life, I've played it for free. To play it for a couple hundred thousand dollars, it's still football for me."

He knows there will be temptation ahead, but Mathieu believes he won't give in.

"I know there's marijuana in the NFL. There's marijuana everywhere you go," he said. "But at the end of the day, none of those people are Tyrann Mathieu."

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