Thorpe winner Claiborne’s commitment never rests
Before Morris Claiborne celebrated his 22nd birthday and was
honored as the Jim Thorpe Award at a dinner Tuesday night, the
All-American from LSU had work to do.
He started his day with 45 minutes of treadmill and pool
Ken Prude, who was one of Claiborne’s high school coaches back
in Shreveport, La., says the cornerback’s commitment has been
evident since high school.
”You could see it, and hope for it, and you see his work ethic
and you’d think there was a possibility, but to this level right
now, it’s beyond what we imagined,” Prude said. ”He’s low-key and
humble and a good guy.”
Claiborne won the Thorpe Award as college football’s best
defensive back. He had six interceptions last season for LSU, which
won the Southeastern Conference title but lost the national
championship game to SEC West rival Alabama.
”It’s an award that’s representative of all the right things
about college football,” LSU coach Les Miles said. ”The recipient
is a team player, hard-working, not a ready-made guy. He came in
not highly recruited, but . he worked hard, is humble and had a
penchant for big plays.”
Claiborne led the Football Bowl Subdivision in interception
return yards with 173, including a touchdown return. He also
averaged 26.1 yards per kickoff return, returning one for
touchdown. He gave up his senior season and is expected to be a
high first-round pick in the NFL draft.
As a sophomore, Claiborne played off of another LSU star
cornerback, Patrick Peterson – the 2010 Thorpe Award winner – and
saw plenty of action as opposing teams tried to avoid throwing
This season, the 6-foot, 185-pound junior was the guy opponents
”It was kind of hard this year,” Claiborne said. ”I thought,
`This is all what Patrick was going through (last year),’ and he
turned out OK, so I must be doing something right. Every time the
opportunity presents itself, I try to seize the moment. There
weren’t too many guys throwing my way, so when they did, I tried to
make them pay for it.”
Claiborne came to LSU thinking he’d play receiver before
Peterson started bending his ear about playing defense.
”My mindset in the beginning was, `I’m an offensive player.’ I
liked to have the ball,” Claiborne said. ”That’s where I wanted
to be at. But I thought about, what were my chances of getting on
the field quicker? It was at (defensive back). Obviously, Patrick
did a lot of pulling at me to get me on that side of the ball, and
it worked out.
”I don’t think I would have made as big an impact on the
offensive side of the ball like I did on the defensive side of the
ball,” Claiborne said. ”I’m glad I made the change. It was better
for the team and it was better for me.”
Peterson said he recognized the makings of a star defensive back
”The ball skills Morris has are unbelievable,” Peterson said.
”I believed (moving to defense) would definitely change his career
and that’s what it did. It propelled him in the right direction.
His discipline, his footwork, his eye-hand coordination – he can
track down a ball from pretty much anywhere – he pretty much has
all the intangibles that a corner needs to be great.”
Because his son had an emergency appendectomy before last year’s
Thorpe Award dinner, Miles wasn’t able to attend when Peterson
received the award.
On Tuesday, he watched as Peterson handed the award off to
another one of his players, as more than a dozen other former
winners of the award – including former Oklahoma stars Rickey
Dixon, Roy Williams and Derrick Strait, former Texas standout
Michael Huff, former Tennessee safety Eric Berry, former Ohio State
cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and former Colorado State star Greg
Myers – watched.
”I’m very fortunate that I’m able to come back and remember
it,” Miles said.
Before Peterson and Claiborne did it for LSU, Texas’ Huff and
Aaron Ross were the only teammates to win the Thorpe Award in
back-to-back years, having done so in 2005 and 2006.
Peterson and Claiborne think LSU has a good chance at making it
three in a row, with cornerback Tyrann Mathieu – aka the Honey
Badger – returning for the Tigers in 2012.
Claiborne said they’ve even come up with a new nickname for LSU
”It looks like we’re trying to go for a three-peat,” Peterson
said. ”That would be huge if Tyrann ended up coming back and
winning it as well.”