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TEMPE, Ariz. — Five years ago, Tyrann Mathieu went to the NFL scouting combine on a mission.

He spent his few days in Indianapolis in February 2013 trying to rehabilitate his image with NFL teams. He had to explain himself. Explain why he was kicked off LSU’s football team. Explain why he smoked so much marijuana. Explain why he was arrested. Explain why he was worth drafting after spending a year out of football.

The questions were abundant.

One by one, Mathieu answered them.

After the Arizona Cardinals drafted him in the third round (No. 69 overall) that year — after five teams passed over him once, 16 teams passed over him twice — and 10 teams skipped by him three times, Mathieu kept answering them, both on and off the field.

Five years later, Mathieu has become an example of why people give second chances. He’s stayed out of trouble. He’s signed a mega contract extension worth up to $62.5 million over five years. He’s become a household name in the NFL — by some accounts a bona fide superstar.

But if there was one example of how far Mathieu has come, it happened in September of last year. That’s when the LSU Board of Supervisors approved a name change for the Tigers’ football players lounge to the “Mathieu Players’ Lounge at Football Operations” after a $1 million donation by Mathieu.

Seeing his name on the lounge will be “humbling,” Mathieu said, and will make him feel like “one of those old, rich dudes.”

“I’m still in awe about that,” said Del Lee-Collins, Mathieu’s defensive backs coach at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans and a close confidant. “Nothing ceases to amaze me with him. I never would’ve imagined it. I said things to coaches like, ‘He’s going to be a Heisman candidate.’ But I would never had imagined that he would have his own legacy on that campus.

“When you think about it, how great is that, that you can play for a university — and only play two years — and have trouble and get kicked off of the team, and you can still go back and donate for the betterment of the university and football program? I applauded him for a long time for that.”

On a chilly December 2017 winter night in Phoenix, five years ago seemed like a different lifetime.

‘I’m just taking it in stride, all of it.’

Mathieu was behind the wheel of his military-like Mercedes SUV, one hand on the steering wheel, the other elbow resting on the door. Chaka Khan’s voice filled the car, followed by Stevie Wonder’s, Drake’s and J. Cole’s. Mathieu’s diverse taste in music doesn’t come as a surprise. This is a man who’s as comfortable talking about the intricacies of an NFL defense as he is explaining the latest conspiracy theory he’s researched — and there are plenty of those.

Mathieu was navigating the streets of Phoenix, stopping at homes of families in need, surprising kids with $1,000 worth of food, toys, clothes and cash, just in time to finish their Christmas shopping. The $10,000 Mathieu spent was all his. He didn’t take donations from corporations and then put his name on it. He wanted to give back, just like so many gave to him throughout his life, throughout the past five years.

“The inside of Ty has always been a humanitarian side because he gives more than he receives,” said Nick Rapone, Mathieu’s former position coach with the Cardinals. “The part that’s remarkable is Ty is no longer a follower. When you deal with marijuana and all that stuff, you’re a follower. Ty now has matured to where he’s making decisions for himself, his family and his livelihood. That’s the maturity that I saw.”

Part of Mathieu’s evolution has been the five-year contract extension he received in August 2016.

It was evidence of not just Mathieu’s development as a football player, it fulfilled the belief the Cardinals put in him. They gave him a back-loaded contract as a rookie, deferring most of his signing bonus to the last three years of his four-year rookie deal to protect them in case Mathieu wasn’t the rehabilitated person he told them he was and who they believed he was. In August 2016 — four years after he was suspended by LSU — he was given a five-year extension worth as much as $62.5 million. Of that, $21.25 million was guaranteed at signing.

In November 2016, Mathieu donated $1 million to LSU’s football program.

“I don’t have any bad vibes with LSU,” Mathieu said. “I learned so much there. I experienced so much there. I had so much fun. I met great people. I still have relationships with people there, but they just gave me the platform to really just be who I am and to show the world who I was, and I was cool with that.

“It’ll always hold a sweet place in my heart just because of the opportunity it gave me to just be who I am.”

To get from 2013 to today hasn’t been easy for Mathieu. It’s been, to some degree, a daily struggle.

He’s not ashamed of his past. He doesn’t hide it. He uses it as a reminder of what could’ve been and what could still happen. Mathieu carries it with him every day, learning from it, using it as his moral compass.

The key to getting through the past five years, Mathieu believes, was staying “levelheaded.”

“I think just me being patient, too, with myself,” he told ESPN. “All of it is learning experiences and all of it is just taking things as they come, so I don’t think you can really prepare yourself for situations or experiences unless you actually live it or do it.

“I’m always thankful for the stuff I went through and thankful for the people I’ve met, and I’m thankful even for some of the bad times because all of it helps get you to wherever you are in your life.”

So, where is Mathieu?

He’s 25. He just finished his fifth NFL season. He has two sons, a big house, fancy cars, a lot of money in the bank. He’s been an All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. He’s had two major knee injuries and has finished just two of his five seasons healthy. He’s also been a team captain, and he’s one of the Cardinals’ NFLPA player reps.

But Mathieu’s still not who he ultimately wants to be.

“I’m working toward that person and I’m trying to be that person, and I’m trying to handle relationships and I’m trying to be better with being a father and being a better football player.

“I’m just taking it in stride, all of it.”

‘Life is funny and weird. It’s real.’

He had to grow up faster than most people.

Mathieu’s biological father is in prison for murder. He was adopted by his aunt and uncle, Sheila and Tyrone, at 5 years old from his birth mother — Tyrone’s sister. In 2005, when Mathieu was 13, he had to evacuate New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina was approaching. He lived in Alexandria, Louisiana for two weeks before relocating to Houston for a few months. When his family decided to return to New Orleans, they found four and a half feet of water in their living room. Mathieu then watched them rebuild. In college, Mathieu turned to pot to escape the mounting pressures of being not just an SEC star but a national phenomenon nicknamed the “Honey Badger.”

The rest, well, is history.

He was suspended from the LSU football team on Aug. 10, 2012. To this day, former LSU coach Les Miles said it was one of the “hardest things” he’s ever done in coaching.

“It was terrible,” Miles told ESPN. “It was a standard policy and not one you changed on a whim. It was what you did.

“It was tremendously hard for me because I knew what kind of person Ty was. Ty was going to give you everything that he had and be a great teammate — a great leader and a quality teammate. He was never going to be a social problem.”

Mathieu was arrested in October that year. Any hope of returning to the Tigers was gone. Mathieu left school and began his full-time pursuit of the NFL. He was 20 years old at the time.

Mathieu doesn’t know how close he is to being the person he wants to be.

“Life is funny and weird,” he said. “It’s real. It’s challenging. It’s all those things. At the end of the day, I just try to balance it all out and not focus on the good, not focus on the negative, but just focus on moving forward, whether things are going good or bad.”

When Mathieu was drafted, he made a conscious decision to “walk a fine line.”

He knew the stakes. He understood his reputation. He saw the temptations. He just didn’t put himself in situations where the ability to make career- or life-defining decisions were easy.

“I just didn’t do a lot of stuff,” Mathieu said. “I didn’t go a lot of places. I didn’t put myself in situations because I didn’t think I could really handle it.

“Now, I’m cool. It’s cool. Temptation is what it is. I think my mind’s a little bit stronger.”

Mathieu feels like he missed out on the fun of his early 20s as a young adult in the real world with money in his pocket. There were times he stayed home from Las Vegas when his teammates took the short flight for a few days in Sin City. But, while he feels like he missed out, he doesn’t see it as a negative.

It was just Mathieu doing what he felt he had to do.

“I was just being me,” he said. “Other people were being them, and I was just being me. I try to hold on to that the most because, to me, that’s what’s so easy to lose, is yourself. That’s the first thing you lose before we lose anything else. I just try to be me, hold on to me, and that’s it.”

The closest Mathieu has come to giving into those temptations was after his first knee injury. Even today Mathieu said he has “about three or four reasons that I could probably use as an excuse to do whatever I want to do,” he said. “That was the way I used to think. Now, I’m 25. I feel like I’ve been in the NFL 12 years.

“I just got a different way of looking at stuff.”

‘He is a mature man at this point.’

The challenge of not giving in, of not regressing, surrounds him daily. As he keeps fending off temptation, Mathieu said he won’t look at life’s “scoreboard” to see how well he’s doing. He’s not even tempted to sneak a glimpse.

“Because, at the end of the day, I’m not perfect, so I don’t try to be perfect,” Mathieu said. “I don’t even worry about the score. I just try to live my life.”

Among all his guiding lights, Mathieu believes the biggest are his two sons, Noah and Tyrann Jr. Everything Mathieu does — good, bad or ugly — will affect them to some degree, he said. He wants them to learn from him, but he also hopes he’s the type of father and man who doesn’t have to teach his sons how to do things differently than how he did them.

Unlike Mathieu’s biological father, Darrin Hayes, who has been incarcerated for most of Mathieu’s life.

“I want to be present for my kids, and my biological father wasn’t present for me,” he said. “I have an adopted father [and] there’s certain things, good and bad, that I try to take from that relationship and try to make myself better at being a father.”

Fatherhood put a lot into perspective for Mathieu.

Lee-Collins talks to Mathieu often about providing for and protecting his kids, and when Mathieu sees his sons, he understands what that message means, Lee-Collins said.

“He grew up real quick and real fast when he was able to see it for himself in front of him,” Lee-Collins said.

Those who have known Mathieu the best during the past five years have seen the changes in him.

He’s more mature. He’s more responsible. He’s smarter. He’s more reserved. He tends to sit back and listen, then analyze what’s happening in front of him more now than he used to.

Lee-Collins used to have conversations with Mathieu where Mathieu would pepper questions about any variety of topics at Lee-Collins. Now Mathieu is the one informing Lee-Collins about different things.

When Lee-Collins visits Mathieu in Arizona, he sees an adult. Mathieu’s always been an emotional person, Lee-Collins said, but now he doesn’t let things bother him like he used to.

“He’s really at peace with himself and his surroundings,” Lee-Collins said. “You can only see that when you’re with him in his own home or with him out to eat. He’s really comfortable with himself.”

Miles believes Mathieu was trying to please everyone in college, and that’s one reason why his story at LSU ended how it did.

“I think he’s realized he can’t live his life for other people,” Miles said. “As long as he controls those things, and it appears he has, he’s going to do all the things he’s going to do.”

Rapone, who saw Mathieu as much as anyone during the season, watched Mathieu mature each year. It started when Mathieu met with the Cardinals in 2013 during a pre-draft visit in a full suit and tie, while others wore buttoned-down shirts and slacks. From there, Rapone said Mathieu has continued to grow.

“Just the accomplishments of him being able to depart from who he was and the world he was living in to what he is now is just remarkable,” Rapone said. “He is an example to every person who needs a second chance or third chance.

“Each year, he would get more and more mature. He fully understands the situation he is in at this moment, and that is because he is a mature man at this point.”

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Cowboys face decision in 2022: Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch – Dallas Cowboys Blog

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FRISCO, Texas — When Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy got together with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn last Friday morning, they began dreaming up ideas for the best way to use their 2021 first-round draft pick, linebacker Micah Parsons.

“We were starting to plan packages and personnel groups,” McCarthy said. “We just want to get Micah here, get him comfortable in the room, and it is going to be more about selecting not only what he can do but how it fits everybody else. Once again, he is a multidimensional and multipositional player for us.”

How the Cowboys make it work with the linebacker group of Parsons, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch will be among Quinn’s biggest challenges in taking over a defense that allowed a franchise-record 473 points in 2020.

Parsons was the highest-ranked defensive player on the Cowboys’ draft board, according to owner and general manager Jerry Jones. McCarthy said Parsons could play all three linebacker roles and serve as a designated pass-rusher.

“I play with a lot of effort; that’s what I think I do best,” Parsons said. “I’m always trying to get to the ball. I’m like a ball hawk. See ball, get ball. ‘Waterboy’ type.”

The Cowboys can hope Parsons is another Bobby Boucher.

Parsons, 21, seems to feel at home with the Cowboys. He grew up a Cowboys fan because of his father, Terrence. Micah was even comfortable enough to call the owner “my man, Jerry Jones.” He visited The Star twice while a player at Penn State. His best game was his last game, the 2019 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium, when he tied his career high with 14 tackles and had three tackles for loss and two sacks.

“There were, what, six, seven plays on his highlights on his point of attack tape that was on there,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

In the two days after Parsons was drafted, McCarthy was asked if he could be compared to Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner or two players from Quinn’s past, Vic Beasley with the Atlanta Falcons and Bruce Irvin with the Seahawks. Wagner has been one of the best all-around linebackers in the NFL. Beasley and Irvin were more pass-rush threats.

“I don’t think you can be one-dimensional in the league now with how many backs there are; receiving backs and tight ends that are going out into the slot,” Parsons said. “Me being versatile will have me here for a long time.”

Surely, Parsons will be on the field a lot in whatever role he earns from now until the start of the 2021 season.

But what happens with Smith, whose $7.2 million base salary is fully guaranteed, and Vander Esch, the Cowboys’ first-round pick in 2018? Free-agent pickup Keanu Neal was viewed as a weakside linebacker, at least in sub packages, in addition to safety.

Either Vander Esch or Smith will be off the field if the Cowboys follow their sub-package percentage from the past few seasons and Neal, a safety by trade, plays a linebacker role.

McCarthy is trying to paint a positive picture in May that will look a lot different come September.

“Your base defense when you play with three linebackers off the ball, or two off the ball and one on the ball, it just — I’m trying not to be redundant here — it gives us tremendous flexibility,” McCarthy said. “It definitely makes Leighton and Jaylon better.”

The addition of Parsons, however, also puts a clock on Vander Esch and Smith. One will not be with the Cowboys in 2022, just purely out of economics and salary-cap issues.

The Cowboys did not pick up Vander Esch’s $9.1 million fifth-year option for 2022, which would make him an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Smith is under contract through 2025, and his $9.2 million base salary next year becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. If the Cowboys released him before then, they would save $5 million against the cap.

Whoever plays better in 2021 would seem to have the better chance to be a Cowboy in 2022; Vander Esch with a new deal or Smith on his current deal.

Parsons is the present and the future at the position, but right now he is looking forward to learning from both of the more senior linebackers.

“I think they’re going to take me under their wing and teach me how to be a pro football player and help me get better every day,” Parsons said. “And we’re going to push each other, and I think once we all come together, we’ll play at an elite level. This defense can be the best defense in the National Football League.”

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New Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence has the mane of a man who means business

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When Trevor Lawrence stepped off the plane and onto his new home soil of Jacksonville, Florida, this past Friday, his first instinct wasn’t to smile or give a thumbs up. It wasn’t to shout “Duuuval!” and yank a Jacksonville Jaguars cap atop his head.

Instead, as the quarterback reached out with his right hand to accept the greetings of his new team, he placed his left hand atop his head, where his fingers caught a handful of glorious caramel blond hair before those locks could cascade down to cover his chiseled face and block it from the lenses of the waiting cameras. Then he strode toward those cameras with a handclap, a smile and a hair flip worthy of a gasp from Tyra Banks on the runways of “America’s Next Top Model.”

Yes, Jags fans, Trevor Lawrence has finally arrived, with his No. 1 arm, No. 1 throwing ability and, more importantly, his No. 1 head of hair. They are football follicles of such fortitude, they have made others famous by association, “others” ranging from social media sensations to nicknames, and lookalikes to faux tweets from the hair itself. Barbershops in his hometown have offered “The Trevor.” His mop has been chronicled by TMZ. And, after Lawrence dismantled Alabama in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship game, GQ wrote, “He is Fabio if Fabio could drop a 60-yard dime against college football’s most perennially feared defense.”

When he once casually revealed he uses Pantene Pro-V to porter his plumage, drug stores in Upstate South Carolina saw a run on the shampoo from high school boys seeking to recreate Lawrence’s secret serum. Troy Polamalu, the pioneer of NFL hair wash endorsements, has offered up the advice of tucking in the hair, lest Lawrence get yanked down by it as Polamalu famously was following an interception against the Chiefs in 2006.

When filament-filled photos taken throughout Lawrence’s spring were sent by ESPN.com to multiple high-profile hairstylists for analysis — from his pro workouts, the Masters, his wedding, the cover of Sports Illustrated — the responses ranged from shock to jealousy.

It is the mane of a man who means business.

“It is definitely a new spin on helmet hair,” said celebrity hair and makeup artist Bryce Carey, who has worked with opulent head tops ranging from Rosario Dawson and Laura Rutledge to Ryan Lochte and Jesse Palmer. “It is as equally impressive in a headband as it is in a black-tie blowout. It is obviously well maintained, conditioned and groomed to perfection. It totally gives me fourth Hanson brother vibes.” And Carey means that as a compliment.

For three years, Clemson students have worn blond wigs with white headbands to games at Death Valley, to parties at the Esso Club and along every fashion mag/Insta post pose-worthy point in between. (If you want one of your own, you can order it via the internet from San Diego-based Watt’s Wigs. For $19.99, the “Star Athlete Headband Wig” comes adorned with a “#16” headband in either Clemson orange or Jaguars’ teal.) When the topic of his grand strands is inevitably raised at news conferences held from the CFP to the 904, his hair hastily hijacks the proceedings, as it did continually last week during his pre- and post-NFL Draft appearances.

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at this point when I get questions about my hair, but I am,” the 21-year-old said last week during the buildup to his impending selection atop the draft. “I guess I thought maybe people would be used to it. I mean, I’ve had it for a while now.”

How long has his ‘do been this long? The literal roots of it go back to his freshman year at Cartersville (Georgia) High. Believe it or not, Lawrence’s first days as a Purple Hurricane were spent wearing a buzz cut. He was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and then moved to Cartersville, located about 45 minutes northwest of Atlanta. Neither location will ever be confused with Haight-Ashbury or the Sunset Strip, so short is how he had worn his hair his entire young life, sitting side-by-side with childhood buddy Joshua Mayo as his mom, Mrs. Rose Mayo, got out the clippers and sheared them like sheep.

But during his first days of high school, Lawrence and three teammates dared one another to not cut their coiffures for as long they could stomach it. The goal was to see both who could hold out the longest and if any of them could actually pull off the look. The answer to both challenges was Trevor Lawrence, though the early returns were not promising.

“It got a little rough-looking there in the middle,” recalled dad Jeremy Lawrence, a steel plant safety and environmental manager who has worn a buzz cut his entire life. “But he’s young and it grows fast.”

It grew a little too fast for the coaching staff at Cartersville, an old-school bunch who prefer their players’ lettuce be high and tight instead of long and lustered. But young Trevor had already taken over as starting QB as a freshman, throwing for 3,053 yards and 26 touchdowns, leading the Canes to the Georgia state semifinals. The coaches, looking around the “Friday Night Lights” town of 22,000 and seeing kids and adults alike wearing No. 16 jerseys and a smattering of blond wigs, decided that allowing Lawrence to keep his hair was probably the best way for them to keep their jobs.

Another gig positively affected by T-Law has been that of Cartersville hairstylist Scott Holder, who owns and operates the Hair Techniques salon with wife Holly. You know the place, down there off South Dixie Avenue, between Picketts Guitar Shop and Wilson Pools Depot. The Holders are longtime family friends of the Lawrences, so when Trevor decided he wanted to go as long off his neck as he did down the field, his mother, Amanda, called Holder, and he has been the caretaker of football’s most famous fibers since 2015. Throughout his college career, including last week’s draft, whenever Lawrence has felt the need to shape his strands, he has made the two-and-a-half-hour drive home for Holder’s handiwork, a quickly but carefully layered effort that takes about 20 minutes.

By the way, Hair Techniques is not the salon that offered up “The Trevor” — it was a rival shop elsewhere in town, but the good people of Cartersville didn’t bite. They had long seen the Holders sitting alongside the Lawrences at Hurricanes home games and then every Clemson postseason game, so they knew a cosmetology counterfeiter when they saw one.

Speaking of fur fakers, no one has ever had a problem with a pair of digital Trevor tributes that originated just down the road from Cartersville. From an undisclosed location described only as “near where he grew up,” a fan who prefers to remain anonymous runs the @TLawHair account and posts every latest great photo of Lawrence’s ‘do with the hashtag #GoWithTheFlow. The account’s big break came when Clemson retweeted it on the video board at Death Valley. Lawrence himself has responded multiple times with emojis. “It’s opened my eyes to how many guys complain on social media about his hair, and several ladies want to know the secrets to maintain the golden flow,” the Twitter user wrote to ESPN.com on NFL draft night. “We’ll see if Trevor lands a Pantene gig to go along with his Adidas, Gatorade and other endorsements!”

Meanwhile, in Alpharetta, located on the road between Cartersville and Clemson, high school student Bella Martina became a TikTok sensation two years ago, when classmates told her she looked like Lawrence. Her brother posted shots of Martina posing like famous photos of Lawrence. As of last week, the video had 2.4 million views, and its sequels, including a side-by-side of Lawrence’s reaction to her look and images of a trip to Clemson where she met the QB and head coach Dabo Swinney, have totaled more than 36 million views and counting. Martina became such a phenomenon on the Clemson campus, she was recruited by candidates for student body president and vice president to record campaign videos on their behalf. They won. Following the draft, Bleacher Report flew her to Jacksonville in Jags gear to see if the locals might mistake her for their new hero. They totally did.

Only days away from high school graduation, Martina’s latest viral video shows her posing in her customary No. 16 Clemson jersey and headband, with the promise of announcing where she will attend college this fall. She raises her arms in triumph and mimics a QB who was a high-round NFL draft pick last week … but it’s Alabama’s Mac Jones! Yes, after two years of wearing nothing but orange, Martina is rolling with the Tide down to Tuscaloosa!

“Clemson fans have been pretty lighthearted, which I appreciate. They know I am capable of having my own life outside of Trevor Lawrence, and we’re mostly making jokes about us being rivals,” said the Artist Formerly Known as Trevor Lawrence Girl. Speaking of, is she going to have to get a new nickname? Because, like her doppelganger, she certainly isn’t getting her hair chopped off. “Maybe Trevor will get a new nickname in the NFL that will trickle down to me.”

Lawrence’s hair has spawned nearly too many nicknames to count, but we will anyway. GQ certainly wasn’t the first to look at his wondrous wool and think of Fabio, the waterfall whiskered king of romance cover novels and reality television. But how does Fabio feel about the comparison? Reached by email, he responded saying he loves it, adding: “I wish Trevor well. I hope he has a good conditioner and good O-line, but I’m still a Seahawks fan. Go Hawks!”

Others have drawn a comparison between the god of Touchdowns and the god of Thunder, and it is a very literal interpretation of a drawn comparison. We reached out to Marvel Studios for a statement from Thor himself, but we were informed he is currently off planet with the Guardians of the Galaxy filming “Thor: Love and Thunder” (in theaters February 2022!).

But on the same day of the NFL Draft, Marvel Comics released a series of superhero-inspired cover images depicting some of the most likely big first-round picks. While there was much debate and discussion about what to do with the likes of Najee Harris and Zach Wilson, as soon as the artists saw a photo of Lawrence, there was no conversation needed. “Come on, this was too easy, right?” Marvel expert and podcaster Angelique Roche exclaimed when talking about Lawrence’s treatment as the legendary Thor #177 cover art by Jack Kirby. “Just look at his hair!”

Then, there is the perm treatment of Lawrence nicknames, tagged on Lawrence in high school and amplified the instant his spun gold could be seen bouncing from beneath his helmet as he touched Howard’s Rock and ran down The Hill.

“Yeah, I’ve heard ‘Sunshine’ pretty much my whole life,” Lawrence explained last fall, referring to the moniker bestowed upon Ronnie Bass, the Californian-turned-Virginian QB in “Remember The Titans,” a film that hit theaters the week before Lawrence’s first birthday. Bass, played by Kip Pardue, shows up for his first practice sporting a flowy long blond head of hair, drawing the ire of the T.C. Lawrence coaching staff, not unlike the reaction of Lawrence’s coaches in Cartersville, though head coach Herman Boone makes Sunshine get out the scissors before he’s allowed to suit up as a Titan.

“Yeah, that’s not how that went down,” the real Ron Bass clarifies today. First, “Sunshine” didn’t stem from his hair, but rather his sunburned skin. As a protest of having to move away from California, he stayed on the beach for a solid month in the, you know, sunshine. Second, as the son of an Air Force officer, Bass had a buzz cut, but when he joined the Titans, they were all sporting shaggy ‘dos. “Remember now, this was Washington, D.C. in 1971. Long hair was in, so I had to grow mine out to fit in with those guys.”

Bass went on to play college football at South Carolina, where he kept his high school nickname secret. It didn’t resurface until the movie was released. So, does it bother him there is now a second Sunshine, and he played at archrival Clemson?!

“Nah, man, he’s so good, I can’t be mad about that,” says Bass, 65, now a TV sales director in North Myrtle Beach. “I coached my son in football for years, and every team he ever played against, from youth league through high school, if they had a kid with long blond hair he was called ‘Sunshine.’ There will be more. Trevor just happens to be the best one.”

If we start reading between the hairlines here, have we uncovered the real source of Trevor Lawrence’s power? Not the weight room or the passing drills or even all of those Chick-fil-A sandwiches he eats after wins. Think about it. It was only after the original Sunshine grew his hair out like his teammates that the Titans became so remembered. Thor and his Avengers teammates couldn’t take down Thanos until after he had regrown his buzz cut back to shoulder length. And since Lawrence entered into his hair club pact with his high school teammates, he has posted a combined high school/college record of 86-6 with zero regular-season losses.

Wait, has this story turned into a Dan Brown novel? Have we followed those tiger paws painted on the streets of Clemson until we’ve stumbled out of the playbook and into the Good Book? Strength derived from hair length?

“The strength of Samson was in the vow, not the hair, but still, nothing good happened after Samson got the trim,” Commander Nathan Solomon, longtime U.S. Navy Chaplain and biblical scholar, explained. Solomon is referring to the Nazarite Vow, a series of devotional actions that includes a refusal to cut one’s hair. When Samson, a.k.a. The World’s Strongest Man (prior to that Magnus Samuelsson guy on ESPN2), had his hackles hacked off in his sleep, he became mortal. “Yeah,” the preacher says of anyone who might try to talk T-Law into a makeover of his mane. “Let it be a sign unto them. Leave it alone.”

It does feel a bit prophetic that Lawrence is moving not to New York or Chicago or some other place where perhaps a head of hair such as his would be met with scoffs and scrutiny. But he is in Jacksonville, located just a Hail Mary toss below the Georgia state line. It is, after all, the hometown of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and what was it they wrote in “Gimme Three Steps?”

Hey there fellow with the hair colored yellow, whatcha tryin’ to prove?

“Oh, he won’t get any resistance down here for that haircut, not in Jacksonville,” says Brent Martineau, who covers the Jags for, among other outlets, ESPN 690 AM. “This was the home of [Gardner] Minshew Mania, with the mustache and hair. And if you’ve ever been in this town, we have no lack of long hair, especially when the guy with the long hair is the No. 1 pick in the draft.”



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Did Raiders again ‘reach’ in the draft? Depends upon your definition – Las Vegas Raiders Blog

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HENDERSON, Nev. — Still trying to figure out how the Las Vegas Raiders could reeeaaach, yet again, for their first-round draft pick — this time Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood?

After taking Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall in 2019. After making Henry Ruggs III the first receiver selected in an historically-deep draft for wideouts in 2020.

Stop.

As in, stop trying to figure it out. Because it all depends upon your definition of “reach,” and who, exactly, is defining it.

Look, the Raiders, like 31 other NFL teams, have their own draft boards and rankings and really don’t care about your mocks or what Mel Kiper Jr., Daniel Jeremiah or anyone else thinks heading into the draft.

“I ignore it 100 percent, except for the fact that I think it’s part of my job to understand league value,” said Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, who, before being hired by the Raiders in 2019, used to make a living placing values on college players and producing his own mock drafts for NFL Network.

“So if you’re going to move up or down the board, you have to know what league value on players are.”

This is not to defend, or decry, the Raiders’ thinking as much as it is to explain how they could select Leatherwood, nowhere near a consensus Top 5 offensive tackle, at No. 17 overall.

To paraphrase Sally Field, the Raiders loved him. They really, really loved him. And at the end of the day, that’s all that mattered. Or did you miss Mayock, who used to make a living alongside the likes of Kiper and Jeremiah, saying that, ratings be damned, Leatherwood was their guy at No. 17?

“In all honesty,” Mayock said, “he was the highest-rated player on our board at that time — offense or defense.”

And there it is. As in, per the Raiders’ draft board, the notions of specific need and best player available intersected when Las Vegas came on the clock. And from Las Vegas’ perspective, the pick was a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, much of Raider Nation was ready to leap from the Stratosphere Tower after the Leatherwood pick, what with both Christian Darrisaw and Teven Jenkins still available. Surely, the Raiders could have traded back and still got their man, no?

Eh, no. Not according to Mayock.

“Just when we got on the clock a team did call us and inquired about moving up but they gave us a very poor trade offer and it was a team that needed a tackle,” he said. “So the combination of the poor offer and their need kind of pushed us away from that.

“There’s a risk/reward scenario and, in this case, we didn’t feel that it was worth it.”

Looking back, the only team after Las Vegas to select an offensive tackle in the first round was Minnesota, who took Darrisaw at No. 23 (Jenkins went 39th to Chicago).

The Raiders trading up in the second round to get the consensus top-ranked safety in Trevon Moehrig at No. 43 seemed to quell Raider Nation. Because, really, had you flipped those two picks — Moehrig in the first round and Leatherwood in the second — many would have celebrated on the Strip.

In reality, the Raiders addressed two real and specific needs at right tackle and free safety and both Leatherwood and Moehrig should start this fall.

Same as in 2019, when the Raiders needed a defensive end and they took the highest-guy on their board at the time in Ferrell, and last season with Ruggs.

“He was the only person I wanted in this draft,” Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN.com of Ruggs during training camp.

Hate the player, not the game … or somesuch.

“I mean, it definitely put a chip on my shoulder,” Leatherwood said of his pre-draft rankings, despite being the reigning Outland Trophy winner and a captain for the national champs. “It bothered me a little bit, but at the same time I’m not a media guy. I’m not the type of dude to get caught up in all that garbage, because I know what my film said about me. And the GM and the coach, they know that as well. I’m just grateful that they watched that film and they saw me as good enough to be the 17th overall pick.

“I’m more than excited to get to the program and prove them right. Not necessarily prove the haters, the people who made all the mock drafts and all this stuff wrong, but to prove to myself and the Raiders organization right.”

And so it went for the Raiders the remainder of their draft — taking an edge rusher who was deemed a late-round prospect at No. 79 in Malcolm Koonce, selecting a receiver-turned safety who will be converted into a weakside linebacker in Divine Deablo one pick later, trading up to draft another safety in Tyree Gillespie at No. 143 before addressing the secondary again it with cornerback Nate Hobbs at No. 167 and then bookending their draft with another offensive lineman in center Jimmy Morrissey.

Yeah, offensive line coach Tom Cable has some juice within the walls of Silver and Blackdom.

Really, the biggest surprise was that five of Las Vegas’ seven picks were on the defensive side of the ball, as it was the first time in franchise history the Raiders did not draft an offensive skill position player.

Or have you forgotten Jon Gruden coaches the Raiders and has final say on personnel decisions?

Mayock laughed.

“I love Jon,” Mayock said at the conclusion of the draft. “He was so good. I mean, we went into Day 2 and we attacked the defensive side of the ball and he was more excited than I was …

“And at the end of the day, you’re right, Jon Gruden is an offensive guy, but what did we do all weekend, we tried to help our defense get better and I give him a ton of credit for that. He was all in.”

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