The Phoenix area is some 1,300 miles away from New Orleans, its topography and culture vastly different than the Louisiana city that Tyrann Mathieu calls home.
Yet the rookie safety, troubled in college with drug issues and having sat out a year of football, might have found a certain kind of nirvana by landing in the desert with the Cardinals.
His friend and mentor,
“When he started having problems, we knew Pat reached out and was going to give a helping hand, and we all said, ‘You know, if he ended up on this team, we were definitely going to pitch in,’ ” cornerback
“He didn’t need to go to a team where he didn’t know anybody. He didn’t need to go somewhere where he might not get the warm welcome he probably needs. It just felt like the perfect place for him to be was here.”
Football life is enough of a challenge for a guy who last played in a game in the 2011 season. Living far from home can cut both ways, isolating a person in need of support. That’s why Peterson has been so crucial.
Matheiu has his own place, and his free time is spent there or Peterson’s house when he isn’t at the team facility. Except for a short stint back in Florida after minicamp – where Peterson’s parents, who also have been instrumental in prepping Mathieu for life after college, live – Mathieu said he was in Arizona the entire time after the draft.
Every day he must prove his troubles are behind him, yet rather than that weighing him down Mathieu said he is in a “good place.” He insists he has no doubts he will be a success.
“I think I have found a routine,” Mathieu said. “I’m just staying out of the light, man. Out of sight, out of mind. If I am not playing football I’m pretty much at home or over at Patrick’s house. That routine is working for me."
Even the transition to post-college life, to becoming an NFL player, has been “pretty easy.” Being in Arizona has become a safety net of sorts for Mathieu as he carves out a new life with his professional dreams – and in many ways, his life overall – in the balance.
“Of course I miss my family,” Mathieu said. “But I think this is a pretty good situation for me, given the distance I am from home.”
The faith inside the organization has been unwavering. It’s not unexpected, since Mathieu hasn’t had any off-the-field indiscretions and has progressed well as he tries to learn his new position. He’s a natural at the nickel cover spot. He can run, he can find the ball and coach Bruce Arians said he can tackle. Mathieu’s biggest issue on the football field remains his ability to be vocal, since it’s something he’s never done and now has to do at safety, loudly calling out changes during plays.
That, the Cardinals believe, will come in time.
“He’s a gym rat,” General Manager Steve Keim said. “We’ll see whether he toes the line off the field but so far every thing we’ve seen brings me a great deal of confidence he’ll do the right thing.”
Not lost in the equation is Mathieu’s personality, which leans to quiet but is of a respectful person who just wants to play football. “He’s a lovable kid,” Arians said.
That doesn’t shock Peterson. The Pro Bowl cornerback and one-time Matheiu teammate at LSU was the one who insisted to the organization his friend and protégé would be a wise draft investment. It didn’t hurt that Peterson knew that would put Mathieu in Arizona and give Mathieu breathing room from his old life.
“I believed if he was given another opportunity he would definitely not let it slip away,” Peterson said. “He tells me each and every day he would not let me down again. I told him, ‘It’s not about letting me down. I never lost trust in you due to getting kicked out of LSU.’ I told him, ‘Just be true to yourself, and make sure you do everything the right way now.’ Because all eyes are on him. He’s under the microscope and has a bulls-eye on his back.”
Mathieu has ex-LSU players like linebacker
Powers talked about the “brotherhood” players have for each other anyway, which is only amplified in Mathieu’s situation. Mathieu is a grown man, Powers acknowledged, and his teammates can’t live his life for him. But he has been embraced on a team that was predicting his arrival ahead of time.
“Once he got here, it just felt like he was a part of us,” Powers said.
That makes Peterson smile. Arizona might not be home yet, but if Mathieu can live his life the way he and the Cardinals want, it could be.
“I think it’s a great thing for him to get out and see something new, get a different outlook on life,” Peterson said. “Growing up, he didn’t have a chance to see many things in the world. To get away from home, to find himself, that was huge. To be however long the plane ride is from New Orleans is huge. To grow up on his own, become a young man, a young professional early.
“He came into the league with some red flags, with some concerns. But I have no doubt in my mind he will fulfill every need we have for him here and he will be a guy who will be accountable, reliable and loyal to the team.”