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By winning the Bednarik Award this season and making it to New York as a Heisman finalist, Mathieu could argue he has done that. Yet Mathieu noted, “I don’t really think about it like that.”

“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.”

Chavis unleashed Mathieu on blitzes, which paid immediate dividends. As a freshman, Mathieu forced five fumbles, recovered three fumbles and had 4 1/2 sacks to go with a pair of interceptions.

Mathieu stepped into Peterson’s old starting spot this season and made a splash on opening weekend against Oregon, with a strip and recovery for a touchdown while he was on punt coverage.

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.

By then, most football fans knew who Mathieu was, even if they weren’t quite sure how to pronounce his first name (TY-ruhn), and they also knew him as the Honey Badger.

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.

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