Those split alliances are clear to Mathieu's family as well. "You don't know if you're supposed to be Tyrann that we know or Tyrann that LSU knows," Darrineka says. "You're stuck in the middle, like you don't know who you are."
Regarding Era Nation, Cordova puts it more succinctly: "Unless you are willing to cut those people off, you're going to be back in the same situation."
For Mathieu, there's a lot riding on his ability to sort out his life. Multiple NFL executives say he could be drafted in the third round if he comes out after this season. His stock could rise if he returns to LSU, but it could drop if he fails to live up to his sophomore year. As of September, Miles perpetuated the feeling around LSU that Mathieu would return. "If he stays the course, I like his chances of being...." He searched for the words. "Being back?" someone offered. Miles shook his head no. "That's not the point. The point is being better."
Once the semester ends, Mathieu is scheduled to spend a month with Lucas in Houston. Lucas reports that Mathieu is doing well in his four classes and that he texted Lucas a photograph of A's he received on two recent assignments. But it's too early to declare victory. "It's not crazy for him now," says Lucas. "It will get crazy when he gets back to being the Honey Badger."
Cornbread, the man who took the wrong path, is confident the things his son has seen will help him take the right one. After his first visit to see Hayes in prison, an eight-year-old Tyrann wrote to his dad, "The only reason I didn't smile [is] because I just don't like to smile. But I still love you no matter what. I would love to visit you again."
Twelve years later Hayes watches his son from prison, getting updates from newspapers and relatives. "Tell Tyrann I said life is serious and we must be thankful and careful," Cornbread wrote to SI, "cause one misstep can cause us years of regret, grief and sorrow."