INDIANAPOLIS — Tyrann Mathieu’s fall from the top of the college football world was fast and foolish. Eight months after finishing fifth in the 2011 Heisman Trophy race, he was kicked off LSU’s team for failing multiple drug tests.
It got worse in October, when Mathieu was arrested for marijuana possession, ending his college career — if it wasn’t over already — and clouding his NFL future.
Nicknamed “The Honey Badger,” Mathieu has gone about attempting to rehabilitate his personal life: He’s spent time in a drug rehab program, has a sponsor, and goes to counseling. Along with all that might come an image transformation, too, although Mathieu acknowledges that renewed trust, especially from potential NFL employers, doesn’t happen overnight.
“I’m not totally asking them to trust me right now,” Mathieu said Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, where he’s participating in the NFL Combine. “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.
“My best friend right now is honesty. I want to be as open as possible because I’m trying to rebuild peoples’ trust and I want those guys to be able to trust me. I hold myself accountable.”
A defensive back who became one of college football’s more dynamic players two seasons ago, Mathieu now has gone more than 13 months since his last game, and has been forced to deal with all that has come with making poor decisions.
Even — or maybe especially — at the combine, reminders of Mathieu’s past aren’t forgotten. He was woken up at 4 a.m. Sunday to take a league-issued drug test.
He’ll have a chance to interview here with any interested teams — as of Sunday afternoon he had not met with the Patriots — and will join the other defensive backs Tuesday for the combine’s on-field test. Mathieu is counting on an opportunity, and said he’s equipped to take it from there.
“I know what it’s like not to have football. I know what it’s like not to be the center of attention and I know what it’s like to be humiliated,” Mathieu said. “To go back down that road again? Not a chance in this world. Not a chance in my lifetime again.”
“Every day is a process,” he added. “I’m not saying that I’m totally there, but I’m making strides every day to be the best person that Tyrann can be.”
Not so fast
Chris Johnson of the Titans can rest easy, at least until Tuesday, when the defensive backs take the field. His 40-yard dash combine record, which some thought had been seriously challenged by a pair of receivers on Sunday, is still safe.
Minutes apart, Marquise Goodwin of Texas and West Virginia’s Tavon Austin blazed down the turf, with scouts and observers clocking both in unofficial times approaching or even quicker than the 4.24 seconds authored by Johnson in 2008. But the NFL’s official times were a touch slower: Goodwin at 4.27, Austin at 4.34.
Austin is projected by some to be picked in the back half of the first round, and as a short (5-foot-8-inch) slot receiver, he has paid close attention to a certain NFL veteran with similar size.
“Wes Welker. That’s the No. 1 guy. I watch a lot of tape on him,” said Austin, who caught 114 balls for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior, when he averaged a whopping 224 all-purpose yards per game. “I think I’m a little quicker and faster than him. So I figure if he can do it, then I can do it, too.”
Goodwin might be the best athlete at the combine — he was 10th at last summer’s Olympics in the long jump — and set Johnson’s record as his goal. He is projected to be drafted in the first three rounds.
According to media reports, former Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei will not be allowed to work out in Monday’s session because of a heart condition that was recently uncovered. Lotulelei, the No. 1 overall player according to Scouts, Inc., will be examined in Salt Lake City . . . Dee Milliner (Alabama), expected to be the first cornerback taken in the draft, said he will have surgery March 12 to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He’s expected to need about two months to fully recover.
South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger said he’s met with two Patriots scouts, and likes the thought of possibly playing in New England. “I love the style of New England’s defense, and I like Coach [Bill] Belichick, how he does things, how disciplined he is,” Swearinger said. “They win championships, and I think I can help be a part of that.” . . . Geno Smith (West Virginia) was the fastest quarterback in the 40, with a time of 4.59 . . . Manti Te’o did not take part in the bench press workout.