Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Colleges

For Tyrann Mathieu, 'Honey Badger' nickname is menacingly sweet now

NEW ORLEANS — In the moments after he received a new name, one that defined his ferocity, one that would last forever, it is worth remembering Tyrann Mathieu's initial reaction.

It went something like this.

"Huh?"

The Honey Badger? What's a Honey Badger? And who came up with that?

Hacksaw. Now, that's a nickname. The Mad Stork, maybe. Snake. Sweetness. The Galloping Ghost.

But Honey Badger? What is that? The mascot for a cereal advertising campaign?

"I didn't embrace it at first," said Mathieu, a sophomore cornerback for the LSU Tigers. "I didn't like it. Especially the 'honey' part. But a lot of kids smile because of the Honey Badger. It's grown on me."

After this season, the Honey Badger has grown on everyone. It has spread to alcoholic drinks and bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets and coffee mugs. If Mike the Tiger wore a T-shirt, it would have the Honey Badger on the front. Maybe one of those proclaiming "The Honey Badger Takes What He Wants."

And why not? Mathieu has emerged as one of the most dynamic players in college football. Every time it seems that LSU has needed a big play, Mathieu has been there to make it. A turnover. A tackle. A big punt return. There is no other player in college football with more voltage than Mathieu, and because of it, there is no player more important in Monday night's BCS national championship game against Alabama.

He is a legend in the making, this small energy-drink in cleats. In a hundred years, they will talk of the Honey Badger at LSU. He might as well be a Horseman, except, well, a honey badger would have a horse for breakfast.

Friday, and for the moment, Mathieu was still. He sat on a riser, speaking softly into a microphone, the honey-colored tips of his hair brightening up the morning.

Once again, Mathieu was talking about how LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis bestowed the Honey Badger nickname on him, and how he didn't care for it until Chavis showed him a YouTube video that described the animal as fearless, as ferocious, as thick skinned. "It takes what it wants," said the narrator. During the video, the animal is shown devouring a cobra and withstanding bee-stings in order to eat larvae.

All in all, it was a fairly impressive performance by the honey badger.

Of course, LSU fans see that every week.

Mathieu is a dazzling player, nickname or not. He is one of those instinctive players who seems to find every loose ball in his hands and every end zone in his sights. In 25 college games, he has forced 14 turnovers. He has six sacks. He has returned punts for touchdowns and fumbles for two others. And so on.

This year, as a sophomore, as a defensive player, Mathieu was fifth in the Heisman voting. If he hadn't had an in-season suspension — reportedly for testing positive for synthetic marijuana — who knows where he might have finished in the voting?

That bit of trouble, too, is destined to become a part of the Legend of the Honey Badger. For Mathieu, the journey has not always been smooth.

He was a toddler when his father went to prison for murder. His mother had raised four children, but she didn't want to raise him. So Mathieu went to live with an uncle and an aunt.

Perhaps because of that adversity, Mathieu says, he grew into a self-driven teenager.

"Growing up like that teaches you to fight for everything," Mathieu said. "It teaches you to never give up and never give in."

Evidently, it also teaches you being noisy is a good thing.

He does not let up, and he does not shut up. That, too, is true of Mathieu, who led the SEC in talking trash. He studies, you know. He absorbs what he can about his opponents, and during the game, he chatters like a car salesman.

"I'm trying to catch an edge any way I can," Mathieu said. "It may be someone's mother's name, or where they grew up or where they went to high school. I think the other players hear it and they go 'How does he know that?' "

A YouTube video, perhaps?

"I'm thankful when people want to know about the Honey Badger," Mathieu said. "You go to Subway's or McDonald's, and a lot of people know the Honey Badger."

Monday night, against Alabama, the legend has a chance to grow. Who else do you expect to decide a defensive game except a defensive player?

This time, the game calls for ferocity. It calls for relentlessness. It calls for toughness. Before the night is over, it might call for the Honey Badger.

By the way, has anyone noticed that trophies are the color of honey?

NEW ORLEANS

In the moments after he received a new name, one that defined his ferocity, one that would last forever, it is worth remembering Tyrann Mathieu's initial reaction.

It went something like this:

"Huh?"

The Honey Badger? What's a Honey Badger? And who came up with that?

Hacksaw. Now, that's a nickname. The Mad Stork, maybe. Snake. Sweetness. The Galloping Ghost.

But Honey Badger? What is that? The mascot for a cereal advertising campaign?

"I didn't embrace it at first," said Mathieu, a sophomore cornerback for the Tigers. "I didn't like it. Especially the 'honey' part. But a lot of kids smile because of the Honey Badger. It's grown on me."

After this season, the Honey Badger has grown on everyone. It has spread to alcoholic drinks and bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets and coffee mugs. If Mike the Tiger, LSU's mascot, wore a T-shirt, it would have the Honey Badger on the front. Maybe one of those proclaiming "The Honey Badger Takes What He Wants."

And why not? Mathieu has emerged as one of the most dynamic players in college football. Every time it seems that LSU has needed a big play, Mathieu has been there to make it. A turnover. A tackle. A big punt return. There is no other player in college football with more voltage than Mathieu, and because of it, there is no player more important in Monday night's BCS national championship game against Alabama.

He is a legend in the making, this small energy drink in cleats. In a hundred years, they will talk of the Honey Badger at LSU. He might as well be a Horseman, except, well, a honey badger would have a horse for breakfast.

Friday, and for the moment, Mathieu was still. He sat on a riser, speaking softly, the honey-colored tips of his hair brightening up the morning.

Once again, Mathieu was talking about how LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis bestowed the Honey Badger nickname on him, and how he didn't care for it until Chavis showed him a YouTube video that described the animal as fearless, as ferocious, as thick skinned. "It takes what it wants," said the narrator. During the video, the animal is shown devouring a cobra and withstanding bee stings in order to eat larvae.

All in all, it was a fairly impressive performance by the honey badger.

Of course, LSU fans see that every week.

Mathieu is a dazzling player, nickname or not. At 5 feet 9, 175 pounds, he is one of those instinctive players who seems to find every loose ball in his hands and every end zone in his sights. In 25 college games, he has forced 14 turnovers. He has six sacks. He has returned punts for touchdowns and fumbles for two others. And so on.

This year, as a sophomore, as a defensive player, Mathieu was fifth in the Heisman voting. If he hadn't had an in-season suspension — reportedly for testing positive for synthetic marijuana — who knows where he might have finished in the voting?

That bit of trouble, too, is destined to become a part of the Legend of the Honey Badger. For Mathieu, the journey has not always been smooth.

He was a toddler when his father went to prison for murder. His mother had raised four children, but she didn't want to raise him, so Mathieu went to live with an aunt and uncle.

Perhaps because of that adversity, Mathieu says, he grew into a self-driven teenager.

"Growing up like that teaches you to fight for everything," he said. "It teaches you to never give up and never give in."

Evidently, it also teaches you being noisy is a good thing.

He does not let up, and he does not shut up. That, too, is true of Mathieu, who led the SEC in talking trash. He studies, you know. He absorbs what he can about his opponents, and during the game he chatters like a car salesman.

"I'm trying to catch an edge any way I can," he said. "It may be someone's mother's name or where they grew up or where they went to high school. I think the other players hear it and they go, 'How does he know that?' "

A YouTube video, perhaps?

"I'm thankful when people want to know about the Honey Badger," Mathieu said. "You go to Subway or McDonald's and a lot of people know the Honey Badger."

Monday night against Alabama, in the city where he was born and raised, the legend has a chance to grow. Who else do you expect to decide a defensive game except a defensive player?

This time, the game calls for ferocity. It calls for relentlessness. It calls for toughness. Before the night is over, it might call for the Honey Badger.

By the way, has anyone noticed that trophies are the color of honey?

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