It’s not often that an athletic department personally calls reporters to make sure they attend a press conference, but then again, it’s not often that a national championship contender kicks an All-American Heisman finalist off the team just before the start of the football season. That’s what happened at LSU on Friday, when Coach Les Miles announced that star cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was no longer with the team.
Mathieu was dismissed for violating team and school policies, and sources told ESPN it was related to repeatedly failing drug tests. Mathieu was suspended for one game last season, allegedly for use of synthetic marijuana, though the school never confirmed those rumors.
Known as the “Honey Badger,” Mathieu was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and Walter Camp Awards in 2011. He was a unanimous All-American selection, the winner of the Bednarik Award for best defensive player, and the SEC’s defensive player of the year.
During the press conference, Miles noted that Mathieu has two years of eligibility remaining and said, “I can’t imagine he wouldn’t want to transfer and go play football” elsewhere. Minutes before Miles’ announcement, ESPN’s Joe Schad reported that people close to Mathieu were already looking at other schools where the Honey Badger could resume his football career.
They may have already found one. Mathieu’s former teammate, Josh Jasper, posted on Twitter that Mathieu will transfer to McNeese State, an FCS program less than 150 miles from the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. “Team sources” are rumored to have confirmed the transfer news, but the official word from the Cowboys’ SID so far is that the rumors are still “speculation.”
Earlier this week, Sportsnola.com wrote a piece about the McNeese State Cowboys: “McNeese defense ready to rise to the top.” Adding a Heisman finalist and All-American would certainly help them attain that goal.
The Cowboys were third in the FCS in scoring defense and total defense, but they were tied for last in sacks and were second to last in the Southland Conference in red zone defense. Senior All-American safety Malcolm Bronson is the leader of the secondary, which also includes returning starters Seth Thomas, a cornerback, and safety Ford Smesny. There was one spot still open in the defensive backfield, at corner, which the Honey Badger just happens to play – very, very well.
If Mathieu does transfer to McNeese, he’ll likely play this year and then enter the NFL Draft. There are currently three McNeese State alumni in the NFL – safety Devin Holland (Tampa Bay), DB Quinten Lawrence (Miami) and DB Janzen Jackson (New York Giants). Jackson was a standout at Tennessee before he was dismissed for violating team policy (sound familiar?) and enrolled at McNeese State.
McNeese State is an FCS school, so for Mathieu to transfer there, it means he was dismissed as eligible. A third failed drug test would have made him ineligible to play for an NCAA institution this year, which would have limited his transfer options to NAIA schools or junior colleges.
While the internet has been full of “Honey Badger don’t care” jokes since the announcement, Mathieu seems to be taking it pretty hard. His normally active Twitter account has been strangely silent, but on Facebook, he wrote: “ANGER HURT CONFUSION in my heart.”
The Tigers, on the other hand, reached the decision “comfortably,” according to Miles, who said they’ll miss him but that the team has to move on.
How well will they be able to defend their SEC title and live up to their preseason #1 ranking without Mathieu?
Maybe pretty well. Mathieu was certainly talented, but in a profile of the Honey Badger in ESPN the Mag’s College Football Preview issue, Kevin Van Valkenberg points out that as good as Mathieu is, he wasn’t even the best cornerback on the Tigers last season.
Of course, LSU already lost their best corner, Mo Claiborne, to the NFL, but while the team isn’t as deep as last year, it’s reportedly still just as talented. CBSSports’ Bruce Feldman said that Claiborne told him last spring that redshirt freshman Jalen Collins, who’s in line to replace Mathieu, is the most athletic guy on the entire team.
Honey Badger was a difference maker for the Tigers, but his absence might not make much of a difference in their standings at the end of the year: LSU’s good, with or without him. It’s Mathieu who’ll have a much bigger challenge overcoming his sudden dismissal.