Sports Network (Philadelphia, PA) - Just days after being dismissed from the LSU football program, Tyrann Mathieu voluntarily checked himself into a drug rehabilitation program in Houston, Texas.
The move came as a shock to many, and it raises a few more questions regarding the "Honey Badger's" football future.
The official reason LSU gave for Mathieu's dismissal was for a violation of team policy, and it later became known that the 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist had multiple drug infractions during his time at the university, causing head coach Les Miles to sever ties with the star defensive back.
Mathieu's showed an extreme error in judgement and raises serious issues about his character, and a trip to rehab to treat his marijuana abuse is no doubt in part to salvage his image. Some may see it simply as a PR move -- much like Tiger Woods' treatment for sex addiction during the heat of his infidelity scandal in 2009 -- but Mathieu's move seems to be more sincere for several reasons.
If he truly had no remorse for the way he's acted and how he's let his former team down, he could have opted to play football this fall. NCAA rules would have allowed him to transfer to any FCS school without having to lose any years of eligibility, and there were no shortage of schools lining up for the All- American's services. LSU has reported that upwards of 20 programs had asked permission to speak with Mathieu about transferring, with McNeese State and Nicholls State emerging as the front runners.
After a year of staying fresh in the lower ranks of college football, Mathieu would have likely declared for the 2013 NFL Draft. It would have been a fresh start in the pros for the maligned star. In a league that has had several of its players arrested during the 2012 offseason for DUI, battery, domestic violence and drug possession, Mathieu's past misgivings would have surely been overlooked by most general managers, given the skill set he brings to the table.
Now that Mathieu has entered rehab and there is no timetable regarding his next move, his future remains uncertain. His father, Tyrone Mathieu, has stated that his son is committed to regaining his health and won't play football until his rehab is complete, whenever that may be. It's possible that Mathieu could enroll in classes at LSU with the hopes of returning to the football program in 2013, and Miles has made it clear that the decision on his dismissal was made for the 2012 season only and he has made no further decisions regarding Mathieu's future years of eligibility.
"I am not in any way speculating (his return to the team)." Miles said. "He will not be on this football team this year -- I guarantee that's a fact. So I have no idea beyond that."
It's not out of the question for Mathieu to declare for the 2013 draft even without playing football this fall. Plenty of players have taken the leap from college to the pros despite a lengthy time off from game action, most notably Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, who was selected in the first round of the 2010 draft despite missing the majority of the 2009 season due to suspension. Mathieu's playmaking abilities are well documented, and his combination of size, speed, instincts and nose for the football on defense -- plus his game- changing ability as a punt returner -- would make most NFL teams salivate regardless of his time away from the field.
Mathieu's absence is also a huge unknown for the defending SEC champion Tigers, who will begin the season ranked No. 3 in the AP Top-25 behind Alabama and USC. AP writer Ralph D. Russo made is very clear that Mathieu's departure played a factor in the ranking.
"The Tigers were poised to start the season No. 1 before Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu got kicked off the team a week ago," Russo said. "In light of that development, the AP extended the voting deadline. Before Mathieu was dismissed...LSU had received 28 of a possible 60 first-place votes. USC was a close second with 22 first-place votes and Alabama was third with nine."
LSU boasted the nation's second-best scoring defense a year ago (10.5 ppg), and it was bound to take a hit with standout performers Morris Claiborne (6 interceptions), Michael Brockers (54 tackles, 10 tackles for loss), and Brandon Taylor (71 tackles, 2 interceptions) all moving on to the pros. The unit still appeared to be in great shape with Mathieu as the anchor, but now that he's gone, only four starters return on defense. What was once a sure thing at cornerback is now as big an unknown as any on the field. The leading candidates to replace Mathieu -- redshirt freshman Jalen Collins and true freshman Jalen Mills -- were both highly recruited but have no experience, meaning growing pains in the secondary could ultimately cost the Tigers in the treacherous SEC.
LSU is a powerhouse program, and they have enough talent and recruiting power to bounce back from losing Mathieu in relatively no time. But for this season, Mathieu's actions have had a trickle-down effect to the football program that simply cannot be ignored.
"I certainly am rooting for Tyrann and whatever his future is," Miles said. "But I'm not focused on that. I've got games to play and I've got 104 guys I have to be ready for. I know that this is a very key time in his life and I hope the decisions that he makes are in his best interest for the long-term."
Whether Mathieu is attempting to restore his image for his own personal gain or for a possible return to Baton Rogue in 2013 is unclear, but it's certainly a step in the right direction in showing he's committed to something more than just football.
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