Packing a Punch

Freshman Tyrann Mathieu is quickly becoming a household name with his aggressive play.

Kelvin Sheppard leads the team with 80 tackles through nine games, no surprise given that the senior linebacker led the team in stops in 2009 and finished second on the team in 2008.

The other names at the top won’t shock you, either.

Linebacker Ryan Baker has 64 tackles.

Defensive tackle Drake Nevis has 47.

Safeties Brandon Taylor and Karnell Hatcher have 44 and 38, respectively.

Care to guess No. 6?

Hint: He’s not a starter – at least not yet.

With six more stops than All-American Patrick Peterson and 12 more than LSU’s second cornerback Mo Claiborne, true freshman Tyrann Mathieu is quickly capturing the adoration of LSU faithful everywhere.

On campus Mathieu looks like just another Louisianan.

He stands at just 5-foot-9, and on a good day he presses 185 pounds. His lone tattoo is a Mardi Gras mask on his left forearm, a tribute to his hometown of New Orleans. He rarely raises his voice, and friends say he isn’t much for drawing attention to himself.

“When he’s away from football he just keeps to himself,” Claiborne said.

Said Mathieu of his demeanor away from the gridiron: “I’m just kind of laid back.”

Put a football in his hands – better yet, put a football in someone else’s hands – and the switch is flipped.

Close your eyes and Jim Hawthorne’s call will have you convinced Mathieu is 6-foot-3, 245-pounds, not the smallest body in defensive coordinator John Chavis’ entire rotation.

“I knew the kid was special the minute he stepped out onto the practice fields,” recalled Peterson of summer 7-on-7 workouts, the first time the incoming freshmen worked out with the team. On day one, Mathieu – unable to deliver his signature punches without pads - intercepted three passes.

When asked if the immediate impact surprised him, the ever-confident Mathieu’s response was short and sweet.

“Not at all,” he said.

Given that the St. Augustine High graduate is having one of the most memorable freshmen performances that LSU has seen in recent years, the answer will suffice.

In his first college game, Mathieu was thrown into action against North Carolina late in the contest. Asked to blitz quarterback T.J. Yates on a crucial fourth down, Mathieu blindsided the Tar Heels passer and forced a fumble.

“Freshmen don’t just step up like that,” Taylor said.

Mathieu called it his finest hour.

He said so without hesitation, interesting given that - unlike most freshmen defensive backs across the Southeastern Conference - Mathieu’s list of marquee moments keeps getting longer and longer.

“He’s definitely having a bigger impact than I had when I first got here,” said Peterson, who left high school in Miami as the nation’s No. 1 cornerback prospect. “I can honestly say that he is one of the best young defensive backs I have seen. He’s got it all.”

Mathieu sends all the credit back to veterans like Peterson.

“He says to keep my head in the game and never dwell on one play,” said Mathieu of Peterson, pointing to the fellow cornerback as the person that took him under his wing. “(The veterans) help us along the way. They will push us to the side and coach us and help us understand what we have to do.”

This weekend Mathieu will be one of a handful of freshmen defensive backs to see more action than normal, thanks in large part to the fact that Claiborne is being monitored after a concussion suffered against the Tide and Taylor is lost for the season.

While Peterson said he remains on call for instruction purposes, he doesn’t expect No. 14 to be asking for help when the Tigers host Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday night.

“He’s definitely ready,” Peterson said. “If you have been watching any LSU football this year, you know Tyrann will come up with something big for the defense.”

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