As much as Tyrann Mathieuis inspiring hope for others, he's fulfilling a promise he made to himself.
Sure, playing for his hometown New Orleans Saints is part of it. The safety – a four-time All-Pro, three-time Pro Bowler and member of the NFL 2010s All Decade team who has 32 interceptions in 11 NFL seasons – embraced coming home when the opportunity presented itself in free agency in 2022.
But as much of it is being able to give back to his community, something he did even as he played for the Arizona Cardinals (2013-17), Houston Texans (2018) and Kansas City Chiefs (2019-21), and has been able to grasp more fully now as a constant physical presence as the face of the Tyrann Mathieu Foundation.
Being named the Saints' Man of the Year, which makes him the team's NFL nominee for the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, is icing on the cake. It's the second time Mathieu, who starred at St. Augustine High in New Orleans and LSU, has been nominated for the award; he was Kansas City's representative in 2021.
The Walter Payton Award acknowledges NFL players who excel on the field and demonstrate a passion for creating a lasting positive impact beyond the game in their communities.
"Obviously, a big part of me coming back home was kind of a full circle moment of going from a kid to a man," Mathieu said. "It's been a pleasure and a blessing, really, to kind of see my career and the route that it has gone to be able to come back home and still do all the things that I promised myself a long time ago that I'd do.
"To be honest, it feels good. I think any time I give back or spend time in the community, I don't think you're doing it for awards, applause or anything like that.
"For me, I remember back to my rookie season (in Arizona), and getting dismissed from school and having the opportunity to get drafted. I remember going in the locker room and it was guys like (receiver) Larry Fitzgerald, (defensive tackle) Calais Campbell, (cornerback) Patrick Peterson, and just trying to be a sponge and soak up as much as I can from those guys.
"So a lot of it is, you have to do the work on your own but I had a lot of good teammates that inspired me to do a lot of great things in the community. I realized I could be a good football player and still do great things in the community."
The continued service, and recognition for it, was preceded by a few hiccups. Mathieu, a Heisman Trophy finalist and Chuck Bednarik Award winner in 2011 at LSU, was dismissed from the program in 2012 and later arrested with three others for possession of marijuana.
"To be honest, I really feel like I always was a good kid," he said. "I think sometimes, you need some guidance. I think for me the turning point was, obviously, getting dismissed from school, but then getting arrested later that year.
"And then from there, I remember calling Patrick Peterson, who has always been instrumental in my life. He suggested to me that I go live with his dad for a few months in Florida. I was kind of unsure whether or not I was going to declare for the draft, I didn't really know what I was going to do.
"But I think having that time to myself to kind of reflect, and then get away, too, from a lot of things that I felt like were distracting me, that was a pivotal moment for me. To be honest, I don't think I've looked back ever since."
The beneficiaries have been the NFL teams for whom he has played – the "Honey Badger" has four interception returns for touchdowns, five forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, 90 passes defensed, 11 sacks, 27 quarterback hits, 44 tackles for loss and 750 tackles in his career – and the communities he has impacted along the way via his foundation.
New Orleans Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu has earned the team's nomination for 2023 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his work in the community.
The Tyrann Mathieu Foundation was established to impact the lives of financially disadvantaged children and youth through encouragement, opportunities and resources.
"We do a lot of different things," he said. "One of the things I'm most proud of, that really hits close to home, is my partnership with Son of a Saint (in New Orleans). I feel like I can relate to those kids a lot. A lot of those kids really are in need of mentors, role models, father figures.
"And for me it was kind of the same. Growing up, father was incarcerated, raised with my uncle and my aunt, a lot of ball coaches and teachers that I had that helped me out along the way. That's been real fun to be able to work with them closely the last couple of seasons.
"This past summer, I had a jamboree day for the kids in the park. You play football, face painting and whatnot. And one of the kids actually told me, 'This is the first time I've ever done something like this.' I think about the times I was a kid, didn't really have a lot of those opportunities to go to the park or meet somebody that I idolized. So that was a real cool moment for me."
Better, still, would be winning his second Super Bowl – he won Super Bowl LIV with the Chiefs – and the Walter Payton Award.
"It would mean a lot to me," he said. "I think all of our goals as football players is to win a Super Bowl. I have to say, if I'm able to (win the Payton Award), that would probably be right up there with it.
"It's just a commitment that I've made to myself and to a lot of the communities that I've played in, just trying to be more than a football player, trying my best to inspire the next group of guys."