Morris Claiborne woke up early to work out on Tuesday morning.
Never mind that it was his birthday. Or that he was staying in a fancy-pants hotel. Or that he was in Oklahoma City to receive the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the best defensive back in college football.
He had work to do.
“You've got to know what you want to do, you've got to set that goal, and you've got to do the things to reach that goal,” Claiborne said. “Most guys set goals, but they don't do things to try to reach those goals.”
That isn't the case with Claiborne. He went from lightly heralded recruit at LSU to the best defensive player in the SEC.
Now, he's widely considered among the top-five players in this year's NFL Draft.
And here's the thing — whatever team plucks him out of the Green Room on draft day is going to get not only a stellar player but also a character individual.
“He's just low-key, humble,” said Ken Prude, who coached Claiborne at Fair Park High School in Shreveport, La., and is now training him for the draft. “He's just a good guy.
“Character issues? Nothing.”
There is no official “character clause” in the selection criteria for the Jim Thorpe Award, but it is definitely an unwritten rule. Every candidate considered for the preseason watch list is screened. Do they have an arrest record? Have they been suspended for any reason?
A speeding ticket in high school might not be a red flag, but anything more than that might be.
Then, the behavior of the players on the watch list is monitored the rest of the season. They are also interviewed by selection committee members.
Bravo to the Thorpe Award.
There aren't enough places where people say character counts, and then, they stand by it.
I mean, LSU's Tyrann Mathieu and Oregon's Cliff Harris were two of the best defensive backs in college football, but neither was among the 15 semifinalists for the Thorpe. Both had off-field issues — lots of them in Harris' case — and that meant they weren't Thorpe Award material.
That's how Mathieu, who served a one-game suspension for violating LSU's team drug policy, became a Heisman Trophy finalist but wasn't a Thorpe Award finalist.
Of course, for as spectacular a return man and as stellar a defensive back as the Honey Badger was, he wasn't the best defensive back on his team.
Question: Why do you think Mathieu had all those chances to score highlight-reel touchdowns and make jaw-dropping plays?
Answer: No one wanted to throw at Claiborne.
In the national championship game, Alabama threw exactly zero passes to Claiborne's side of the field. The Crimson Tide learned its lesson; Claiborne's interception in the teams' regular-season game set up a fourth-quarter field goal that sent the game to overtime and helped the Tigers to victory.
“The ultimate sign of respect,” Prude said.
So is this: SEC coaches named Claiborne the league's Defensive Player of the Year. In a conference known for defense and flush with defensive stars, winning that award is as tough as any in college football.
He had a team-high six interceptions, a ridiculously high number for a guy who so rarely saw the ball thrown his way.
The tables were turned a year ago. Claiborne played opposite of Patrick Peterson, who won the Thorpe Award last season and was drafted fifth overall by the Arizona Cardinals.
“No one was going to his side,” Claiborne said. “I knew guys were going to try me each and every game.”
This season was the exact opposite.
“It was kind of hard,” Claiborne admitted. “I thought about it — ‘This is what Patrick was going through, and he turned out OK, so I must be doing something right.'
“Wasn't too many guys throwing my way, so when they did, I tried to make them pay for it.”
Those who saw him up close knew what a talent Claiborne was, even though he was overshadowed nationally by Mathieu.
Not that Claiborne cared about any of that.
“He actually might've loved it,” Prude said, “because it took attention off of him.”
Trying to attract the spotlight or grab the headlines has never been Claiborne's style. Still isn't.
Not long ago, he was spending time with his family back home in Shreveport. His mom was introducing him to everyone she knew.
“Hey, this is my son, Morris Claiborne,” she'd say proudly. “He plays for LSU.”
He finally pulled her aside.
“Please stop telling these people who I am,” he begged.
Opal Claiborne laughed as she told the story.
“He just wanted to hang out with the family,” she said. “People still came up to him, and he autographed stuff for them. He's a good child. He has always been a good child.
“He worked really hard to get where he is.”
No doubt about that.
He moved to whatever position the coaches wanted him to play in high school. He played much of his senior season with a fractured bone in his foot — an injury no one knew about until after the season. He changed from receiver to cornerback when he got to LSU.
Every step along the way, he's done whatever it takes to be great.
And he's still doing it.
After working out for nearly an hour Tuesday morning, Claiborne bent over and tried to catch his breath. He'd done the treadmill. He'd been in the pool. He'd gotten more done before breakfast than most people do all day.
He glanced at Prude.
“This is a shame,” Claiborne said. “Today's my birthday, I'm here to receive the Jim Thorpe Award, and I'm working out when I could be asleep.”
The two men got a good laugh out of that.
Then, they got back to work.