Jim Thorpe award winner Morris Claiborne takes his job seriously -- even on his birthday

The Jim Thorpe Award winner woke up early to work out on Tuesday morning. Never mind that it was his birthday. The LSU defensive back, and future NFL Draft pick, had to get to the gym.
by Jenni Carlson Published: February 7, 2012

“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.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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