Even under the best of circumstances, Tyrann Mathieu found trouble in Baton Rouge.
Even as LSU’s star player, under the protective bubble of a football program that needed him, busied with the time constraints of practice and playing and everything else that comes with being a Heisman contender, Mathieu reportedly failed too many drug tests and got booted from the program.
The Honey Badger had real problems. He had real challenges. And yet somehow those around him sent Mathieu right back to Baton Rouge, right back to LSU, only as a regular student this time even though he had virtually no chance of regaining his eligibility for the Tigers.
So he had no football. No drill sergeant coaches. No support system or competitive outlet or structure or maybe even a positive role model. There was just a lot of free time, the same old fame and, it turns out, the same ex-teammates/friends to help get him in even deeper.
Mathieu and three former LSU players were arrested Thursday on drug charges after police searched his apartment, with Mathieu’s permission no less, and found “10 bags of high-grade marijuana” and other sales paraphernalia such as grinders and scales.
The Honey Badger is presumed innocent in court and perhaps his strange willingness to let the cops just come right into his apartment speaks not of extreme legal naiveté but rather Mathieu being unaware there was anything to hide. Who knows? Mathieu was charged with simple possession of marijuana, which a number of websites dealing with Louisiana criminal law downplay as somewhat minor and can result in a drug diversion program rather than a prison term. Former teammate Derrick Bryant was charged with the far more serious possession with intent to distribute.
This isn’t the end of the line. It’s on the way though.
In terms of the NFL, in terms of the career of one of the most dynamic and popular college football players in years, it's clear that trouble keeps following Mathieu.
The story is fairly pathetic. Police were called to the apartment complex because a man [later identified as former LSU starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson] tried to force his way through a security gate and later exchanged words with a maintenance worker. After being let in, he went to Mathieu's apartment. When the cops came and the door was opened, the officers “immediately smelled a strong odor of marijuana” according to a police news release. Seven of the bags were found in book backpack.
As crime rings go, this was weak, a bunch of clowns all but asking to get caught.
This is Mathieu’s mess to clean up. These were Mathieu’s mistakes, undoubtedly. This isn’t to exonerate a grown man who seems hell bent on casting away a potentially glorious future to the lure of drugs. It’s a sad, sick story. Unfortunately it isn’t that unusual.
Yet this is also a failure of whatever adult figure is supposed to looking out for his best interests, whether it's family, mentors or LSU coaches and administrators.
Other than returning to his drug-infested neighborhood in New Orleans, there couldn’t have been a worse place for Mathieu to attempt to rehab than Baton Rouge. This was the exact same scene that got him in trouble, only now he was on his own. And apparently his old friends were too.
[Heisman Watch: Collin Klein steps in the spotlight]
There is always outrage among fans, and the NCAA, about so called “middle men” or “hangers-on” or “AAU coaches” that try to lead these kids from one extreme of American life to the other. Well, a lot of them aren’t essential to the process, a lot of them aren’t the experienced head that actually has the best interest of the young athlete in mind.
The North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils were both 5-2 heading into their ACC matchup on October 20. With the game's winner earning bowl eligibility and a chance to sit on top of the ACC's Coastal Division, North Carolina appeared to wrap up a win on a wild play late in the fourth quarter.
Down 26-23 with 3:30 remaining in the game, the Tar Heels had a first down at their own 40. Quarterback Bryn Renner completed a pass to wide receiver Erik Highsmith at the Duke 40, and Highsmith had room to run but coughed up the ball at the 20 after being hit by Duke's Jordon Byas. Ross Cockrell had a chance to recover the ball near the 10 for the Blue Devils. Instead, the ball kicked forward to North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard, who scooped up the ball at the 4-yard line and ran it in for the score.
The entire play took 18 seconds, resulting in a late 30-26 lead for North Carolina. However, the Blue Devils drove down the field in their final possession, winning the game 33-30 on a touchdown pass from Sean Renfree to Jamison Crowder.
– Mike Patton
Tyrann Mathieu’s father began serving a life sentence for murder when he was two. Now he needed to walk a very straight line to become a multimillionaire. Clearly the route laid out in front of him was a narrow one.
Essentially only a couple good things, but a million bad, can happen for someone like Mathieu. It’s a pro fortune, a degree or this. And while a handler may sound unseemly, one can also be imperative.
Someone needed to get Mathieu out of Baton Rouge and into a football program somewhere in Division I-AA, NAIA, whatever. Someone needed to tell him that ever playing again for LSU was a pipe dream and that you don’t bank your life on some small-odds/high-risk course because you love Old State U.
Someone needed to realize leaving him there was asking for a bunch of small-time fools to get him caught up in a ridiculous arrest.
He needed a fresh start, true structure and an outlet for his competitive fire. He didn’t need to go from an almost always-busy college football superstar to a regular student where the temptations of downtime have ruined far more stable and mature lives.
LSU claimed publicly he’d never be eligible. So why stay? Was he told otherwise privately? Did he not understand? Was some small school in a little far off town too unappealing? Didn’t anyone give him the smart advice, lay out the stakes?
What seemed like a bad idea just became a worse, yet predictable, reality.
The legal system will determine what’s next for Mathieu and the other ex-Tigers. There are other sides of this story to be told. Maybe he’s innocent of all legal charges. Even if he isn’t, he may be able to avoid incarceration.
There isn’t any doubt he remains in a situation fraught with trouble, that he isn’t making good decisions or surrounding himself with positive people.
When Mathieu gets out of jail, someone who cares about him, whether it's from back home in New Orleans or the football offices of LSU has to get him out of town and off to some place that might help him help himself.
He played the game with too much spirit and overcame too many odds already to just have it all end in the web of cheap crime and pathetic friends on a Thursday afternoon in Baton Rouge.
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