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Transition to team always easier if a former teammate is around


One-time Notre Dame teammates Michael Floyd (15) and Robert Hughes (39) talk at a recent Cardinals practice.

When Tyrann Mathieu was selected by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft, there was plenty in Louisiana he wanted to leave behind.

While his home state was the scene of his rise to stardom at LSU, it was also the location of his fall, where marijuana use forced Mathieu off the Tigers and briefly into jail. The turbulence caused him to be wary of acquaintances, a sensitivity which only heightened after signing a lucrative four-year contract.

Despite that trepidation, when Mathieu arrived in Arizona, there was still one person from his past he couldn't wait to

seek out: cornerback Patrick Peterson.

"A lot of times you form relationships with guys, and you don't know why they're hanging around you or what they want from you," Mathieu said. "With us, we understand. We don't want anything from each other but to see both of us be successful."

Mathieu and Peterson's relationship is well-chronicled, as they played together at LSU before joining forces on the Cardinals. While they are the most high-profile, the Cardinals' roster is stocked with other former college teammates who have reunited with the Cardinals.

Offensive linemen Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell played together at Mississippi. Linebackers Sam Acho and Alex Okafor were fellow Longhorns. Defensive end Kareem Martin and offensive guard Jonathan Cooper battled daily in practice at North Carolina. Clemson has a trio of players – running back Andre Ellington, wide receiver Jaron Brown and kicker Chandler Catanzaro – on the Cardinals, and there are many more throughout the roster.

Even long-time NFL veterans like defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, linebacker Ernie Sims and cornerback Antonio

Cromartie are reunited more than a decade since their time at Florida State, while kicker Jay Feely and linebacker Larry Foote are teammates again 16 years after attending Michigan.

While the players tend to quickly develop other friendships throughout the locker room, it's nice to see a familiar face immediately following the move to a new city. After Martin was drafted in this year's third round, he began conversing with Cooper over text message. Once Martin arrived in Arizona, Cooper invited him over for a game night with other players.

"I can come over to his house and I know I'll be welcomed with open arms," Martin said. "I can ask about the area because he's been here for a full year now. It makes the transition that much easier."

Wide receiver Michael Floyd is entering only his third year in the NFL, but already he's the experienced one among the Notre Dame brigade with the Cardinals. He played with running back Robert Hughes and tight end Troy Niklas in South Bend, and while tight end John Carlson was before his time with the Fighting Irish, that college connection is still there.

"When our guys visit they always want to ask, 'Where's the best spot to stay?' or 'What's the goal here?'" Floyd said. "Me being my third year in, that's something I can connect with them about."

Acho said he and Okafor still share inside jokes from college, and they will periodically chat about their time together at Texas. Okafor said the biggest advantage came in the linebackers meeting room last year, where he felt comfortable chiming in as a rookie with support from Acho.

"Just to be able to come into a room where you can be yourself and feel accepted, everybody wants that," Okafor said. "Most of my questions came in the classroom, because that's what I'm out here for and that's where I can help this team. It was definitely a blessing for him to be here."

Mathieu and Peterson patrol the secondary together, while former LSU teammate Kevin Minter is now slated to join the starters at inside linebacker in his second season. Mathieu believes having three former college teammates on the same defense – and if safety Curtis Taylor makes the team, a fourth -- adds to the chemistry.

"We stayed in the same apartment complex for the most part, and we were always around each other (at LSU)," Matheiu said. "We're just comfortable with each other. I'm a signal-caller, Kevin's a signal-caller. When he says something, I understand it. And when I say something, he understands it. It helps us jell better."

With the way the NFL works, players can quickly divide into factions depending on their lifestyles, age, position, personality or any other number of factors. But in the beginning, a college teammate can be a helpful guide, both on and off the field.

"Whenever someone needs a place to stay, somewhere to eat, somewhere to hang out or whatever, that pre-existing relationship makes everything easier," Acho said.


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