Mark Wiedmer: Honey Badger should study the lesson of UTC's Williams

Mark Wiedmer: Honey Badger should study the lesson of UTC's Williams

August 23rd, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

No one would argue much that University of Tennessee at Chattanooga running back Keon Williams' football future probably isn't as bright as that of former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.

While Mathieu was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, Williams was sitting out the Mocs' 2011 schedule over an arrest for marijuana possession.

While Mathieu weighs his best path to enter the NFL as he completes a drug rehab program after being dismissed from the Bayou Bengals last week for his own marijuana issues, Williams is attempting to prove to UTC coach Russ Huesman that he again deserves to see the field. Not necessarily start. Just play meaningful minutes.

But should the Honey Badger -- as Mathieu is often called -- decide to pay his own way through LSU in hopes of returning to the Tigers next year, Williams could certainly counsel him on the benefits of a year away from football.

"Mentally, it's made me better, more focused on school," said Williams of UTC coach Russ Huesman's decision to suspend him for the entire 2011 season. "It's made me a better person. I decided to take a lot of negative stuff and turn it into positive stuff."

Drugs are again making an increasingly negative impact on our nation's youth after waning a bit at the start of the new millennium.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 22 percent of 12th graders surveyed in 2011 had used marijuana at least once in the month before the survey. Beyond that, 6.6 percent of those 12th graders said they used the drug daily as opposed to just 5 percent in 2006.

"And we're not just seeing an increase in marijuana in young people," said Debbie Loudermilk of CADAS (Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services). "We're also seeing an increase in pain pills, prescription pills, stealing from their parents' and grandparents' medicine chests."

But as Mathieu enters rehab and considers whether it's best to sit out the season then return to LSU, enter next spring's NFL draft without playing any more football or transfer to an FCS school for the upcoming season, Loudermilk says LSU's decision to dismiss him and Huesman's decision to suspend Williams for a year is sound reasoning.

"What is typical for someone to make life changes is that there has to be pretty significant distress," she said. "Cutting an athlete off from the sport he loves is significant distress. It usually gets their attention."

It seems to have gotten Mathieu's attention. By entering former NBA star John Lucas's rehab clinic in Houston he is apparently turning his back on transferring to an FCS school and playing immediately.

In his latest public statement on his dismissal, the Honey Badger tweeted: "Sometimes you have to stop doing what is easy and begin to do the things that are hard."

Huesman said it wasn't all that hard to suspend Williams. What concerned the coach was whether or not the player would stay in school without football to push him.

"We knew he was going to need his academics whether he played football again or not," the coach said. "We really stayed on top of that. But I wasn't worried about his football. I had 80 or so other guys to worry about where football was concerned."

And the payoff for such diligence from the coaching staff and such determination from the player?

"A complete turnaround," Huesman said. "Keon's commitment to football, his commitment to academics. I think he realized pretty quickly that something pretty valuable was being taken away."

Said Williams of Huesman earlier this week: "I can't even describe how much I appreciate him not kicking me out of school. I could have gotten lost in the juco system and never made it back. Now I'm playing football again and improving in the classroom."

How much has he improved?

"I just made my first A since I got to college," Williams said with a big grin of the grade he received in a history course earlier this summer.

Perhaps that's why Loudermilk said of coaches and administrators who don't look the other way: "It can help save [the athlete's] career and his life."

Especially his life.