By: Michael Hull
Sitting in line waiting for camp to begin, a brown-haired elementary school boy looked around until his eyes fell on a figure standing to his right. In awe, he tapped his friend next to him and whispered:
"The Honey Badger."
Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu hosted his annual Heart of a Badger youth football camp at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center Sunday. The event hadn't happened over the last few years due to COVID-19, and Mathieu said he was happy to be back out there.
"I know a lot of kids that follow my foundation, this is the thing they look forward to," Mathieu said.
Over 300 kids in grades K-9 attended the afternoon camp in the Saints' indoor practice facility. They participated in drills at six stations around the facility, working on things like footwork, catching, passing and agility. The counselors and coaches for the camp included varsity coaches and players from St. Augustine High School, Mathieu's alma mater.
New Orleans Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu hosted his "Heart of a Badger" youth football camp on Sunday, July 10, 2022.
A New Orleans native, the 5-foot-9-inch safety said it felt good to be hosting the camp back in his stomping grounds.
"It really just feels like I'm at home," Mathieu said. "I'm just really glad to be back."
Mathieu spent the camp walking between the six stations, talking to and encouraging the campers.
"It's not about the size of the dog, it's about the size of the fight in the dog," Mathieu told a group of campers.
Mathieu also took a group of older campers outside and played all-time quarterback in a game of six-on-six football. The athletic defensive back threw multiple deep touchdowns to campers who got behind the defense.
The former Chief, Texan and Cardinal said it's important to him to be a mentor and role model for kids.
"Obviously I'm not perfect, but I feel like I'm somebody that kids can relate to," Mathieu said. "I'm just hoping mostly that I can really inspire them."
Besides playing at St. Augustine, Mathieu also played collegiately at LSU, making his signing with the Saints a true homecoming. He said the reception has been great from fans.
Mathieu has made a difference in every community he's lived in since being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. He founded the Tyrann Mathieu Foundation in 2017 with the mission of trying to "impact the lives of financially disadvantaged children and youth through encouragement, opportunities and resources to achieve their dreams."
The foundation hosts events throughout the year, including Tyrann's Turkeys during Thanksgiving, where they hand out turkey dinners to families in need, Tyrann's Backpack Giveaway each August and the Heart of a Badger Youth Camp. The organization also has opened up Tyrann Mathieu Tech Zones — state-of-the-art Technology Academic Centers for financially disadvantaged students.
A third-round pick by Arizona, Mathieu was the Chiefs' nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2021, given each year to an NFL player for outstanding community service off the field and excellence on the field.
"You play the game because you care about your teammates and your coaches, and I think it's the same mindset off the field," Mathieu said in a video for the WPMOY Award. "You do the things you do in the community because it's about the people…If I could make [someone's] day or make a holiday, to me that's bigger than catching an interception in a ball game, just to see these families smile."