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Tyrann Mathieu looks to pay forward influence, inspiration through foundation

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Tyrann Mathieu has seen how having influential men in his life shaped who he became as a person and helped him through some of his lowest points.

Through his new foundation, Mathieu, who's in his fifth season as an Arizona Cardinals safety, wants to have that same impact on youth in Arizona and his hometown of New Orleans.

"I feel like I have two different homes," Mathieu told ESPN. "When I got drafted, obviously, there was a lot of that potentially came with me. The people of Arizona, they've been very warm and welcoming. So not only do I want to give back to New Orleans, but I want to show Arizona love."

Two men in particular have played significant roles for Mathieu.

One is Del Lee, Mathieu's defensive backs coach at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. He became a mentor to Mathieu, someone whom Mathieu still relies on regularly, and a "father figure," Mathieu said.

"He always gave me some wisdom and some encouragement," said Mathieu, dressed in patterned suit, before the Tyrann Mathieu Foundation's first fundraiser in Arizona, a casino night at a Scottsdale resort.

The other is Patrick Peterson, Mathieu's teammate at LSU and with the Cardinals. The two have become as close as brothers since they first met on Mathieu's recruiting trip to Baton Rouge in 2009.

Mathieu called Peterson a "big brother" for "showing me how to do things on and off the football field and always believing in me."

Together, Lee and Peterson have been alongside Mathieu for the highs and lows.

"The most important thing was they never gave up on me, even when I steered the wrong way or made the poor decisions," Mathieu said. "They always believed in me. They always encouraged me. I think that's ultimately what kept me going."

Peterson was taken aback when he heard that Mathieu called him one of the two most influential men in his life. It took Peterson a few moments to gather his thoughts as the power of those words sunk in.

"Honestly, that's a remarkable honor to receive from a guy of his stature," Peterson said. "He has his own nickname. To have him saying I'm one of his positive role models, one of the most influential people in his life, that's huge.

"But for me, I just try to stay on a straight line, try to do things by the book, the right way and show the guys behind me, watching me, how to do it and how to get it done because I was definitely in the position to learn from others, as well."

Mathieu has been learning from Peterson for eight years now. When the two met during that recruiting trip in the fall of 2009, it was friendship at first sight, especially after Mathieu started talking smack.

Mathieu, who was widely under-recruited when compared to Peterson, looked at the five-star high school All-American and said: "I'm going to come to LSU and be better than you."

Peterson didn't know what to think.

"When he told me that, I'm like, 'Damn, a freakin' high school kid just called me out,'" Peterson said. "But at the same time I loved that because that's why I'm playing the game because I want somebody to be better than me. I'm paving the way for him. So I did it."

Peterson quickly took Mathieu under his wing and their relationship blossomed into what it's become today: two best friends whose NFL lockers are two players apart.

"To see what he's become now is definitely a blessing," Peterson said. "Some of the trials and tribulations that he went through, I don't know who could've or who would've made it out of that. To see where he's at right now and in a position to help, it really is just truly a blessing."

And now Mathieu wants to do the same for youth in Arizona and New Orleans as men like Lee and Peterson did for him.

Part of his foundation's mission is to have an "impact in the lives of financially disadvantaged children and youth through encouragement, opportunities and resources to achieve their dreams."

To do that, Mathieu wants to inspire them.

"It's not necessarily about them pursuing football. It's about them being the best they can be. Hopefully, I can create opportunities and be a resource for them to really just push forward in life, so obviously trying to encourage any adversity they have. This is a great opportunity for me. I'm really excited about it."

The foundation also marks a new chapter in Mathieu's life.

Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald sees Mathieu working in the weight room, the classroom and on the field. He sees him stay to himself in his personal life. But starting a foundation to enact change, especially in the lives of children, will change Mathieu's relationship with the Phoenix area, Fitzgerald said.

"When you start establishing yourself in your community, I feel like you become a staple of your team," Fitzgerald said. "You see all the kids running around on the sideline and in the stands with [Mathieu's No.] 32 jerseys on. He's got a profound impact on these young people. He's like a cultural icon here. They said Odell Beckham started the blonde hair but Ty started it many years ago.

"He's a trendsetter."