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New Orleans Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu still comes out a winner at NFL Honors

'I should go after my dreams just like he did. I should keep chasing and never stop'

Las Vegas – Tyrann Mathieuwas not named Walter Payton Man of the Year on Thursday night during the NFL Honors presentation. But the New Orleans Saints safety already had won the most important vote he could've attained prior to his trip.

Joining Mathieu at NFL Honors was his mentee, 14-year-old Furnell Nero. And Nero, a member of the Son of a Saint program in New Orleans, was convinced that the player who earned Man of the Year with the Saints also should have taken home the larger, league-wide award.

"He should be Man of the Year, Year of the Man – it doesn't matter," Nero said, smiling. "He's a dad or a father or a brother. He helps people, and he does so much for New Orleans. He tries his best and he does his best."

In part because of his work with Son of a Saint, Mathieu earned his designation with the Saints, the second time in his NFL career that he has been named Man of the Year for a franchise. He was Kansas City's recipient in 2021. Pittsburgh's Cameron Heyward, son of late Saints fullback Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, earned this year's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

The goal of Son of a Saint is to provide mentorship, education, recreation, camaraderie, cultural enrichment and emotional support for mentees.

"I'm more than grateful," Mathieu said of the nomination. "Everything Walter Payton stood for and all the things that he's done, I think there's more than enough players in this league that are deserving to go home with this award. You're just happy to be here, you're grateful to be here and you're just thankful to have this opportunity."

Sharing the experience with Nero was significant for Mathieu.

"I've worked with (Son of a Saint) in the past a few times, but the more I leaned on them, the more I got to know about them – about the foundation, about the people that run the foundation – I thought it just related to me so much," Mathieu said. "A lot of those kids go to St. Augustine, and I went to St. Augustine. And a lot of these kids are in need of role models and father figures. There was a point in time of my life that I needed that. So to have that responsibility, and to be the guy that I am today, I just feel like it's my duty to pour back into those kids.

"For me, (Nero is) always willing help the next person. I remember we'd go out to get shoes – he's always thinking about his mom – how can I help her, how can I support her with his other siblings. I think any kid that's not thinking about going outside to play, but thinking about helping his mom and helping his sister, that's a good kid."

Nero, who attends Hynes-Lakeview in New Orleans, said he was drawn to Mathieu.

"When I saw him the first time, I just saw the look in his eyes and I knew he was the person I needed to talk to," Nero said. "It's like having a dad and a brother at the same time.

"It's a great thing, because I don't have a father. But when Tyrann came and he helped us out, I looked to him like a father figure. I felt like I should go after my dreams just like he did. I should keep chasing and never stop."

"I think it was a mutual thing," Mathieu said. "I've been around the program a few years, so I'm starting to recognize faces. You're able to hear these guys' stories. You can see the maturity, you can see the growth in a lot of them, you can see the teamwork in a lot of them, and I think that kid represents all of them."

New Orleans Saints legends Drew Brees and Mark Ingram, defensive end Cameron Jordan and safety Tyrann Mathieu attended the 2023 NFL Honors award show in Las Vegas, NV on February 8, 2024.

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