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No. 8: Tyrann Mathieu Goes Off the Rails

The small guy who made big plays was a major story in the SEC despite playing all of one game in the calendar year.

Chris Graythen

The year 2011 was a big one for LSU's Tyrann Mathieu. He was the best and most timely defensive and special teams playmaker for a team that went 13-0 largely on the strength of defense and special teams. He got to go to New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He gained household name status along with a catchy, if hackneyed, nickname as "the Honey Badger".

The year 2012 was a complete nightmare for the SEC's breakout star.

It all began on January 9, the night that Alabama got its revenge and blew out the Tigers 21-0. Mathieu was a non-factor in the game, making no notable plays on defense and returning a single punt for a single yard. It would be a bad omen for the rest of his year.

It would all come crashing down for Mathieu on August 10, when Les Miles and Joe Alleva held a joint press conference to announce Mathieu's dismissal from the team. They did not announce a specific cause for the dismissal, but rumors of failed drug tests appeared to be well founded when a week later we learned that he was headed to rehab. He had been suspended a game in the middle of the 2011 season for failing a drug test over synthetic marijuana, so whatever exactly happened over the summer was not his first strike.

However much time he did spend in rehab, it wasn't enough. Police arrested him and three other former Tigers in late October at a Baton Rouge apartment for marijuana possession. In just under 11 months, Mathieu's unhealthy relationship with the drug led him from the Heisman Trophy ceremony to being kicked off of the team and being in police custody.

Mathieu will have another chance to get his life turned around, as he will enter next spring's NFL Draft. Instead of doing so after a junior season in which he might have progressed as a player even more, he'll be doing it having not played in over a year. It's a sad story, the kind we don't like to dwell on, when a player goes from the top of his sport to deep personal lows.

The fall of this unique player was more stunning and almost as quick as his rise to prominence. We wish him the best of luck in the future and hope that he can once and for all exorcise his demons and get himself back on the right track.