BATON ROUGE, La. — Tyrann Mathieu has opened a new chapter at LSU.
Whether the 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist known as the Honey Badger ever plays football for the Tigers again remains to be seen.
As Mathieu was enrolling in school for the fall semester on Tuesday, LSU coach Les Miles was maintaining his stance that the time is not right to speculate on the former star cornerback’s future with the program.
All that is certain at this point is that Mathieu, who was dismissed from the team Aug. 10 for failed drug tests, won’t be playing this season, which continues Saturday night with the Washington Huskies’ visit to Tiger Stadium.
“I think he’s making some quality decisions for himself,” Miles said of Mathieu’s efforts to address personal matters and his return to school exclusively as a student. “My focus is about my team and preparing game week. … We certainly wish (Mathieu) the very best.”
When Mathieu was dismissed, Miles and LSU athletic officials said the move was required by school policies. They assumed Mathieu’s departure was permanent, for practical purposes, because he was immediately eligible to transfer to a football program in the FCS, the second tier of Division I, and also will have the option of entering the 2013 NFL draft.
However, Mathieu instead went to Houston to check himself into the Right Step recovery center run by former NBA player and coach John Lucas, who battled drug and alcohol problems during his career and now counsels others.
“(Returning) was a pretty easy decision for me,” Mathieu told WVUE-TV. “I had to come back and finish what I started. The team means a lot to me, the staff, the athletic department, the teachers I formed a relationship with. All of that played a role in my decision to come back and do it the right way this time.”
With Mathieu back on campus, Miles said he was not aware of any school policies that would prevent the popular ex-Tiger from rejoining the team in 2013. That means it would be up to Miles and top athletic administrators to decide if Mathieu can be trusted to avoid further trouble. However, Miles and athletic director Joe Alleva are declining to comment on the matter at this time.
LSU safety Eric Reid said he ran into his old teammate on a quad at the center of campus, walking to class.
“He was very positive, smiling. He knows this is something he has to do and it’s going to be better for him in the long run,” said Reid. “He knows he made a mistake, and he’s moving on from that. He’s just looking forward to the future and doing things right from now on.”
Tigers players who had spoken with Mathieu recently said they were not entirely sure if Mathieu would try to rejoin the Tigers in 2013.
“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” Reid said. “I’d support any decision that he makes. He’s my friend, he’s my brother, he’s a Tiger, so we’re just happy he’s back here on campus and we get to see him.”
Reid, a junior, who also will be eligible for the 2013 NFL draft, said he would not be surprised if Mathieu hoped to delay pro football another year and return to the Tigers.
“He’s from Louisiana. His family’s here. We’re his family and we’re here for him,” Reid said. “He has a great support system here, so I don’t see why he’d leave.
“This is college. This is a fun time,” Reid continued. “You build relationships that you have the rest of your life.”
The 20-year-old Mathieu won the Bednarik Award as national defensive player of the year last season and was a big-play machine at cornerback and on special teams. The All-American scored four touchdowns — two on punt returns and two on fumble returns — intercepted two passes, caused six fumbles and recovered four.
He has two years of college eligibility remaining.
“I’m still going to train and work out really hard, but it’s not going to be my focus right now,” said Mathieu. “Instead, I’m going to stay humble, stay grounded and view football from a different angle this time around so I can appreciate it more when I do get the chance to play it again.”
Freshman Jalen Mills is now starting in Mathieu’s old cornerback spot and moving to nickel back on passing downs, when redshirt freshman Jalen Collins comes in.
Punt return duties have been taken over by sophomore Odell Beckham Jr., spectacularly so far. Beckham returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown in LSU’s season-opening 41-14 victory over North Texas last Saturday. He would have had a 76-yard return for a score had it not been nullified by an illegal block.
Still, Beckham was quick to say he would welcome Mathieu back to the team.
“I would love it, not just the things he does on defense or punt returns,” Beckham said. “Just the vibe that he brings to this team is something that is unmatched.”