Sitting alone in a jail cell was an eye-opening experience for Tyrann Mathieu. Rock bottom didn't seem far away.
Unable to play football and feeling the overwhelming weight of disappointment from those he let down, Mathieu says he realized things had to change.
In an interview with ESPN's Joe Schad, Mathieu described the moment.
“Sitting in that jail cell, it clicked,” he said. “I had to accept the responsibility that I was never going to play for LSU again. The only school that believed in me. And I didn't even believe in them. I felt I was a loyalty person. Looking back, I didn't know anything about loyalty. I could talk it, but you know, walking it, was a whole different thing. And when you realize you're not loyal, that's what hurts the most. When you realize you lied to people, that's what hurts the most.”
The fall from grace stared Mathieu in the face: He went from devastating foes on the football field, known around the country as the Honey Badger, to an inmate confined by walls and bars. All for prioritizing getting high over his responsibilities.
Mathieu revealed the lengths and depths of his marijuana use in the interview with Schad, noting that getting high became a post-game ritual over film study or improvement, and that coach Les Miles went as far as randomly showing up at his house to make sure his star was keeping on track.
He obviously wasn't.
Now, Mathieu says, that's all behind him.
“I'm growing up now. It ain't that I'm lying to them. I'm saving myself. Because I've got an outlook on life. I know what's behind that door.”
Time will tell whether Mathieu has in fact grown up, but we've seen an increased willingness of teams to forgive marijuana-related issues. Many athletes have admitted use to teams with little consequence ahead of the draft, and arrests didn't seem to bother teams much either.
Of course, none have been quite as detrimental to team and self as Mathieu. Mathieu's problems were not just with marijuana, but with an inability to deal with problems, fix mistakes and handle poor performances, all of which will be necessary skills to succeed in the NFL, both on and off the field. While marijuana use may not concern teams as much, mental strength will.
That is the chance teams will take in April's NFL draft when deciding whether to take a chance with Mathieu, a concern if he turns into the undersized DB who AJ McCarron picked on throughout the BCS National Championship game in 2011 – especially after missing a year of playing time.
He may also become the disruptive force in the secondary with a knack for big plays taking a similar path to Ray Lewis.
That's how Mathieu sees it going, anyway, and watching his highlight reel makes it easy to believe. But we know what Mathieu can do physically. We're about to find out what he's made of mentally.