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

work.

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

toward Peterson.

This season, the 6-foot, 185-pound junior was the guy opponents

avoided.

”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

in Claiborne.

”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

– ”DBU.”

”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.”