They used to call him T-Rex.
That was a nice, intimidating, macho-sounding nickname. Tyrann Mathieu had to admit, he liked the sound of that.
Then came along this irreverent, bizarre, moderately profane YouTube video about a sleek-backed, vicious little predatator from Africa and Asia.
The video’s opening line:
“This is the honey badger.”
Soon, someone got wise the idea to pair the honey badger’s fierce reputation with the LSU cornerback’s play-busting persona.
“Coach (John) Chavis said, ?I love me some honey badger,’” Mathieu recalled, quoting his defensive coordinator.
That was all it took.
“It runs all over the place.
“Look, it’s chasing things and eating them.”
At first, Mathieu wasn’t exactly thrilled by his new handle. Who would be if their nickname was “T-Rex”?
Eventually though, like opposing ballcarriers, Mathieu had to just give in.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Mathieu, unable to resist a smile. “I pretty much have to accept it now. It’s going viral.
“I’m cool with it.”
“Nothing can stop the Honey Badger when it’s hungry.”
Nothing, it seems, can stop Mathieu, LSU’s 5-foot-9, 180-pound barrel of defensive TNT.
Mathieu blows up plays with the kind of regularity that would have been the envy of the French Resistance.
Through 18 games as a college player, Mathieu has 92 tackles (12.5 for loss), six sacks, three interceptions, six fumble recoveries, 11 pass deflections, a school-record nine forced fumbles and two touchdowns.
“The Honey Badger ...?just takes what it wants.”
The first touchdown was a strip of Oregon punt returner Kenyon Barner in LSU’s season opener, resulting in a 3-yard stomp into the end zone that helped tilt a close game in the Tigers’ favor.
The second came Saturday against Kentucky in Tiger Stadium. Mathieu came flying in from quarterback Maxwell Smith’s left, literally flying as he punched the ball out of his hands. The ball caromed off a pile of players before Mathieu scooped it up and ran 23 yards for a touchdown, the coup de grace in a 35-7 win over the hapless Wildcats.
“You want me to tell you who it is?” LSU radio play-by-play announcer Jim Hawthorne asked playfully as Mathieu trotted through the end zone.
“No,” responded color analyst Doug Moreau, “we know already!”
In another part of the press box, SEC Network analyst and 1989 Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware pronounced, “The honey badger strikes again,” then began to tout Mathieu as a Heisman Trophy candidate for this year.
Someone told Mathieu, who recently dyed his hair a golden hue, that reaching in for the ball against Smith he looked like the honey badger going after a snake in the video.
“I think the honey badger is rubbing off on me.” Another smile.
As for the growing Heisman talk, Mathieu admits winning the award is something he has dreamed about, but doesn’t let those aspirations cloud his mind.
“It’s always good to be mentioned as one of the best,” he said. “Times here right now call for a championship. I’m not really into the Heisman hype. I’m trying to be the best player I can be for my team.”
His teammates know how good Mathieu can be. They see it in games and they see it on the practice field.
That tipped-and-grabbed interception Mathieu made against West Virginia, returning the ball to the 1 just before halftime? He made three more like that one day in practice, according to safety Brandon Taylor. Fellow cornerback Tharold Simon said Mathieu made eight picks in practice last week all told.
“I knew Saturday something amazing would happen,” he said.
How has Mathieu become the amazing playmaker he is? Some say it’s instincts, and there is his intense drive to win that Mathieu said comes out whether he’s playing football or a friendly game of cards.
But no great player gets by on talent and determination alone.
Mathieu spends much of his down time pouring over video of players like former Tigers LaRon Landry and Patrick Peterson (whose former No. 7 he now wears), Darrelle Revis and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, looking to incorporate bits of their games into his.
He studies the opposition just as intently.
“When they carry the ball in one hand the whole game you’ve got to pick up on those things,” Mathieu said. “I knew the (Kentucky) quarterback liked the ball in his right hand. He was on the left side of the field and I was able to react and get some ball.”
Known more for his interceptions at St. Augustine in New Orleans, Mathieu said there are still facets of his game - like blocking kicks and punts - he would like to incorporate into his college repertoire.
“There are still some plays I dream about making,” Mathieu said. “Most of the plays I’ve made aren’t even on the top of my list. It’s about me practicing hard and making those aspirations come true.”
Maybe one aspiration can lead to another.
“Honey Badger for Heisman,” read a sign in Tiger Stadium on Saturday.
“The Honey Badger ... just takes what it wants.”
Maybe he’ll just take it all.