Tyrann Mathieu — not Honey Badger — eyes new start in Arizona

Arizona Cardinals third-round draft pick Tyrann Mathieu smiles during a news conference Thursday, May 9, 2013, at the teams' training facility in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Arizona Cardinals third-round draft pick Tyrann Mathieu smiles during a news conference Thursday, May 9, 2013, at the teams' training facility in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Honey Badger wants a new nickname.

Too many bad memories, too much of a stigma attached to the name once meant as a compliment to former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.

“I understand that there’s a lot of people who love it and can’t let it go,” he said Thursday during his introductory news conference with the Arizona Cardinals. “I want people to recognize me as Tyrann. I don’t have anything against the nickname; it’s just that Honey Badger happened during such a dark time.”

Once one of college football’s most dynamic players, Mathieu found himself out of the game last season and his future in doubt after repeated problems with marijuana.

Mathieu spent six months trying to rehabilitate his image and was emotional after being given a second chance, sobbing into the phone after the Cardinals used a third-round pick on him.

With Arizona about to start a rookie minicamp, it’s time for Mathieu to show what he can do on the field and start proving to the Cardinals that they didn’t make a mistake in drafting him so high.

The good news is that he’ll have some friends to lean on. Patrick Peterson, Arizona’s All-Pro cornerback, was Mathieu’s teammate at LSU and one of his closest friends, perhaps his biggest ally as he tried to restore his image over the past few months.

Mathieu also will be joining the Cardinals with another teammate: linebacker Kevin Minter, who was drafted in the second round in this year’s draft.

“It definitely helps,” Minter said. “All the guys from LSU, they’re always preaching what happens at the next level. They prepare us well, tell us the dos and don’ts.”

After taking North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper in the first round and Minter in the second, the Cardinals felt like they could take a chance with their third-round pick and used it on Mathieu. Between their gamble and Peterson’s faith in him, Mathieu realizes the changes he has made over the past six or so months have to stick.

“To go through that then and understand my responsibility now, I have a different mindset and a different outlook,” he said. “I know there are a bunch of people out there who want me to succeed and want me to be a leader in the community.”

While there may be doubt about whether Mathieu can fulfill his end of the straight-and-narrow bargain, those close to him are certain he will — and will be there to help him do it.

Peterson vouched for Mathieu’s character to the Cardinals before the draft and said he plans to continue being a mentor to prevent anymore slip-ups. Minter, too, said he would be someone for Mathieu to lean on if he needs it and had no doubt he would have a big impact on the Cardinals.

“I’m just excited about having him on the team,” Minter said. “He’s a very passionate player, plays every down as if it were his last. Regardless what happened off the field, the dude was a great teammate. It’s going to feel good having him in the locker room.”

As for the Honey Badger nickname, Mathieu hopes to have that retired — except in certain situations.

“If the little kids out there want to call me Honey Badger,” he said, “they can do that.”