Peterson Presents Thorpe Award to Claiborne
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- 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."