TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Honey Badger wants to shed his nickname.
Too many bad memories, too much of a stigma attached to the name once meant as a compliment to former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.
"I understand that there's a lot of people who love it and can't let it go," Mathieu said Thursday during his introductory news conference with the Arizona Cardinals. "But for me, I want people to recognize me as Tyrann. I don't have anything against the nickname, it's just that Honey Badger happened during such a dark time."
It certainly was.
Once one of college football's most dynamic players, Mathieu found himself out of the game last season and his future in doubt after repeated problems with marijuana.
Mathieu spent six months trying to rehabilitate his image and was emotional after being given a second chance, sobbing almost uncontrollably into the phone after the Cardinals used a third-round draft pick on him.
With Arizona about to start a rookie minicamp, it's time for Mathieu to show what he can do on the field and start the process of proving to the Cardinals that they didn't make a mistake in drafting him so high.
The good news is that he'll have some friends to lean on.
Patrick Peterson, Arizona's All-Pro cornerback, was Mathieu's teammate at LSU and one of his closest friends, perhaps his biggest ally as he tried to restore his image over the past few months.
Mathieu also will be joining the Cardinals with another teammate: linebacker Kevin Minter, who was drafted in the second round by Arizona in this year's draft.
And it even goes beyond that.
LSU has churned out one NFL player after another and many of them pay it backward, letting the players coming up behind know what's coming next.
"It definitely helps," Minter said. "All the guys from LSU, they're always preaching what happens at the next level. They prepare us well, tell us the dos and don'ts. I'm sure I'm going to adjust well."
Mathieu may have the tougher acclimation.
A Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011, he was kicked off LSU's team before the start of last season for repeated failed drug tests. His image and NFL future took another hit a few weeks later, when he and three former teammates were arrested on marijuana charges after police officers found 10 bags of pot and drug paraphernalia in his Baton Rouge apartment.
Mathieu spent the months leading up to the draft trying to rehabilitate his image and keep himself in shape, leaning on Peterson to make sure he was on the right track.
Mathieu helped himself by being honest about his past problems with Arizona's front office and agreed to whatever kind of drug testing and counseling the team might want.
After taking North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper in the first round and Minter in the second, the Cardinals felt like they could take a chance with their third-round pick and used it on Mathieu.
Between their gamble and Peterson's faith in him, Mathieu realizes the changes he's made over the past six-or-so months have to stick.
"To go through that then and understand my responsibility now, I have a different mindset and a different outlook," Mathieu said. "I know there are a bunch of people out there who want me to succeed and want me to be a leader in the community."
While there may be doubt about whether Mathieu can fulfill his end of the straight-and-narrow bargain, those close to him are certain he will — and will be there to help him do it.
Peterson vouched for Mathieu's character to the Cardinals before the draft and said he plans to continue being a mentor to prevent anymore slip-ups.
Minter, too, said he would be someone for Mathieu to lean on if he needs it and had no doubt he would have a big impact on the Cardinals.
"I'm just excited about having him on the team," Minter said. "He's a very passionate player, plays every down as if it were his last. Regardless what happened off the field, the dude was a great teammate. It's going to feel good having him in the locker room."
As for the Honey Badger nickname, Mathieu hopes to have that retired — except in certain situations.
"If the little kids out there want to call me Honey Badger, they can do that," Mathieu said.
If Mathieu can play like he did before his fall from grace, he and the Cardinals aren't likely to care what anyone calls him.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.
Posted on Fri, May 17, 2013