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November 2, 2011

LSU's elusive 'Honey Badger' an emotional leader for Tigers

BATON ROUGE, La. | The Honey Badger is fierce. The Honey Badger is relentless. The Honey Badger takes what he wants. And you can add another characteristic to that description this week: The Honey Badger is elusive.

Actually, it is no surprise that defensive back Tyrann Mathieu was hard to find this week in LSU's otherwise accommodating media sessions. Mathieu was absent from the Tigers' last game against Auburn, and while LSU never specified any reason or even acknowledged a suspension, there would no doubt have been copious questions about what precisely happened, questions coming during a week when LSU coach Les Miles has said he wants fewer media duties, not more, for his players.

Mathieu, a sophomore cornerback and special teams demon from New Orleans, will be back in the LSU lineup, according to Miles, for Saturday's No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown between the Tigers and Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium. That will make a difference for LSU. Mathieu is a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Week this season, was the star of LSU's season-opening win against Oregon and is an emotional leader of the Tiger team for his diminutive size and aggressive play, if not necessarily his off-the-field decisions. Even in a secondary that includes players as talented as Thorpe Award semifinalist Morris Claiborne, it is Mathieu who commands the lion's share - or at least the badger's share - of attention.

Still, Mathieu was unavailable on Monday (along with two teammates who were held out against Auburn and who, to be fair, likely would have been incommunicado at most football programs, including Alabama's). You couldn't talk to the Honey Badger - but you could find people to talk about him. Safety Eric Reid, a secondary star in his own right, was glad to address questions about the missing Mathieu.

"Tyrann knows he made a mistake and will have to bounce back from it in the future," Reid said. "He's happy to be back."

Whether reflection will do anything to diminish Mathieu's love of the big-game spotlight is another matter, in Reid's opinion.

"He's definitely got the attitude of a superstar," Reid said. "That's just the way he is and always has been. I wouldn't say he ruffled feathers when he got here, I'd say he opened eyes with the way he played in (preseason) seven-on-seven. I had only met him one time before he got here, but I got to know him pretty quickly. You could say that whoever the fastest (receiver) was, that's who he wanted to cover, whether it was (Terrence) Toliver or Rueben Randle.

"That's how he got his nickname. Honey Badger isn't scared of anything. If somebody had a big reputation, that just fired him up."

"(Mathieu) is the same in practice as he is in the game," said Randle, LSU's top receiver. "He's relentless. He's flying around trying to make every tackle. Off the field, he is laid-back, but not on the field."

Randle, a native of Bastrop, La., said that Mathieu's nickname was "something I don't think much about," although "we take fun in it."

"At first, I didn't know what it was," Randle said. "That's not something we have in Bastrop. We have snakes. I don't like snakes. You might see a couple of raccoons. But you don't really see too many badgers."

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil.hurt@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0225.


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