“I just thank Patrick for all that he’s taught me, the things that he’s showed me on the field and off,” Mathieu continued. “That’s why I took his number. All the things that Patrick couldn’t accomplish, I was going to work hard to accomplish those goals for myself and Patrick.”
Only two years ago, Mathieu was playing high school football at St. Augustine, a strict private Catholic school in New Orleans that has seen numerous graduates go on to play major college football. Mathieu had thrived as a play-making cornerback, wild cat quarterback and receiver, yet he was largely overlooked because of his size. LSU was the only SEC school to offer him a scholarship.
When he arrived in Baton Rouge, his headiness impressed defensive coaches so much they decided to use him as a nickel back as a true freshman.
“Right away we could see he had skills,” Chavis said. “He had cover skills. There was toughness about him. He didn’t mind mixing it up. … He has a great knack for being able to pressure the quarterback and time things up. It’s just natural for him.”
A couple weeks later at West Virginia, Mathieu anticipated a screen pass, which he deflected to himself and nearly returned it to end zone, setting up a touchdown.
The following week, he stormed into Kentucky’s backfield, swatted the ball away from quarterback Maxwell Smith, then scooped it up and ran for a touchdown.
Talk of his Heisman candidacy cooled, however, when he was suspended one game in October, against Auburn, for failing a school-administered drug test.
“I definitely thought my suspension took me out of the (Heisman) conversation for a while,” Mathieu said. “But I’m surrounded by such great support at LSU, between my coaches and my teammates. I was able to just keep focused and stay the course and everything came to life toward the end of the season.”
The late-season highlights included a 92-yard punt return against Arkansas and two spectacular, weaving and tackle-slipping returns in the Southeastern Conference title game against Georgia.
One of his returns against the Bulldogs went 62 yards for a touchdown, and might not have been his most impressive runback. He nearly took another return all the way back, using several changes of direction and a scintillating studder-step to avoid eight Georgia players who tried to bring him down before he was finally tripped up at the Georgia 17.
Mathieu also recovered a fumble in the SEC title game, which like his other two big plays in the game, led to a touchdown.