While a beloved LSU football star was already gone by LSU’s Fan Day on Saturday, one potential star received a glimpse of the attention coming his way this season.
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU’s 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist who endeared himself to LSU and college football fans alike with his thrilling play, was absent from the fan celebration, one day after LSU coach Les Miles dismissed Mathieu from the program for violations of athletic department and university policy.
But while the defense’s most recognizable player is gone, LSU fans had an offensive star-in-waiting they wanted to see: new starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who has been dubbed the “Mettsiah” by LSU faithful.
Lines into the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and Carl Maddox Field House wrapped around the two buildings before doors opened. Once inside, fans darted straight to tables of the players whose autographs they wanted the most.
Among the lines for offensive players in the Carl Maddox Field House, the line for the quarterbacks was easily the longest.
What Mettenberger brings, fans said, is the potential of a more efficient passing game that was mediocre at best in 2011. It ranked 10th out of 12 teams in the Southeastern Conference with former Tigers Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee at the helm.
Mettenberger threw for 2,678 yards and 32 touchdowns in one season at Butler Community College in Kansas before transferring to LSU.
“He’ll do a lot better than Jefferson did,” said Annette Fernandez, 37, of New Iberia, who waited in line for Mettenberger’s signature.
While most fans said they were sad to see Mathieu go, they said they believe LSU will be fine without him because enough talented players, such as junior safety Eric Reid, are in the secondary.
“He’s a good ball player,” said Boo Oliver, 39, of Fenton. “Now, is one player going to affect the team this year? Not likely.”
Unless it’s a player like Mettenberger, Oliver said.
“If it was Mettenberger, that’s a whole different ballgame,” he said.
Lines were also deep to see LSU’s defensive backs. But Mathieu, the former star cornerback and punt returner, didn’t have a spot at their table.
Miles said Friday that Mathieu, a junior cornerback/punt returner from St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, was dismissed for “violation of team policy.”
Neither Miles nor athletic director Joe Alleva would say what Mathieu did, but the New Orleans Times-Picayune and ESPN, citing unnamed sources, reported that Mathieu’s dismissal was the result of another failed drug test.
Mathieu was suspended from LSU’s game against Auburn in 2011 for what was widely reported to be a second failed drug test.
“I think the guy, with as much talent as he has, just threw it all away over something stupid,” said Jamie Lee, 35, of Slidell.
Lee said he and his two sons Jack, 11, and Eric, 9, had hoped to see Mathieu on Saturday.
Lee, though, said he still wishes Mathieu the best and thinks the Tigers, voted college football’s preseason No. 1 team in the USA Today Coaches poll, will be just fine.
“We’ll lose a little bit on defense, but someone will step up and take that spot,” Lee said.
Memories of Mathieu were still present during the festivities. Footage of seasons past played on video screens featured highlights from Mathieu’s stint in Baton Rouge.
Several fans, such as Thomas Hanks, 35, of Crowley, and his 16-year-old son, Garret, still wore No. 7 jerseys with Mathieu’s name emblazoned on them.
Thomas Hanks said he still supports the player, whom he considers one of the greatest to play at LSU.
“He’s a young kid,” he said. “People make mistakes.”
Mathieu’s “honey badger” symbol, though, was virtually nonexistent.
Mathieu’s play as a diminutive yet aggressive ballhawk garnered comparisons to the honey badger, a small, furry creature known for its fearless nature and association with a YouTube video sensation.
“Honey badger” T-shirts quickly grew in popularity in 2011 when Mathieu’s stature as a player rose. But at Fan Day on Saturday, nobody could be seen wearing one.
Even though the “honey badger” symbol had faded, none of the fans interviewed Saturday harbored any ill will toward Mathieu.
“I hope he can get through his issues and get to the NFL,” Fernandez said.
Other than Mathieu’s absence, it was business as usual at Fan Day. Thousands carrying helmets, wearing replica jerseys, donning purple-and-gold Mohawks — there was nothing out of the ordinary for LSU fans.
“After kind of a down day yesterday (Friday), it’s nice to have an up day today,” said Herb Vincent, LSU senior associate athletic director.
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