It's been almost two years since running back Jovon Robinson carried the ball in practice drills as a member of the Auburn Tigers. He could return to campus in 2015, but it might be as a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Robinson spent limited time with the Tigers during training camp in 2012 as a freshman. The freshly signed 4-star prospect didn't make it to kickoff of his first collegiate season.
The former Memphis, Tenn., standout is still working his way back to the FBS.
Robinson resurfaced at Georgia Military College in 2013, running with authority and purpose against junior college opponents. He set NJCAA records for single-season rushing yards (2,387) and touchdowns (34).
In the wake of his monster season, Robinson once again ranks among America's most coveted recruits. Several of the schools that pursued him in high school—including Auburn—have rejoined the race.
Last week, he listed the Tigers as one of his top five options during a conversation with 247Sports reporter Bryan Matthews. Auburn must contend with Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida State for his services.
It's important to remember that he initially signed with a different Tigers regime than the one currently in place. Former head coach Gene Chizik recruited Robinson to Auburn but was fired following the 2012 season, two years after winning a national title.
Auburn isn't entirely rebooting its recruitment of Robinson since he's already acclimated with the campus and football facilities. Second-year head coach Gus Malzahn also has history with the running back from his days as Tigers offensive coordinator.
“I’ve always liked Coach Malzahn,” Robinson told 247Sports. “He was actually the first coach, OC, to recruit me out of high school. He came to my high school when I was in 11th grade and told me I could do some special things with him."
Things didn't work out as planned.
Malzahn spent the 2012 season at Arkansas State. Robinson spent it out of football.
Now they have a chance to make up for lost time, as Auburn is a top contender to bring him back. The Tigers' rushing attack exploded for more than 4,500 rushing yards last season en route to a conference title.
“It’s really a fun offense to watch," Robinson said. "It’s actually something like I’m doing at GMC. It’s one of the more diverse offenses for running backs."
If Robinson felt Auburn was the right fit when the team wasn't nearly as productive, it's easy to understand why the Tigers have again emerged as a favorite. However, Auburn isn't the only team trying to capitalize on a second chance with America's top-ranked JUCO prospect.
Alabama was heavily involved in Robinson's high school recruitment from it's earliest stages.
"It's crazy how things work out," Robinson told AL.com reporter Matt Scalici last April. "Alabama was my first offer, and I wasn't even thinking about Auburn at that time. Auburn was my last offer."
Nick Saban and his staff aim to turn the tables this time around.
Like Auburn, Alabama has an impressive stable of young running backs set to step up this season. Still, the addition of a rusher like Robinson would be viewed as a game-changer regardless of the pieces already in place.
The 5'11", 200-pound prospect received an offer from Alabama in February, approximately five weeks before Auburn extended a scholarship for the second time.
While wading through Robinson's collegiate options, Auburn and Alabama rise to the forefront based on a personal history with him that lasts nearly four years. Each program presents an opportunity to compete for immediate reps with an established SEC powerhouse, but neither will simply hand him starting duties.
Running back depth is impressive at each school, so Robinson will rely on a strong opening training camp to set the tone. Considering his first college camp was cut short in embarrassing fashion, expect him to come out of the gates with determination and appreciation.
It's hard to argue with the success of Auburn's ground game these days, but Alabama has produced multiple Heisman Trophy contenders in its backfield during Saban's reign.
This decision must ultimately come down to where he feels most comfortable, because third chances are extremely hard to find when you're working with limited eligibility.
He was thrilled to be at Auburn in 2012, but that school is the site of some painful memories.
"I was prepared to play in the SEC as a freshman, to maybe be the face of Auburn University, and in a moment it was like I was being snatched from my ultimate dream," Robinson told AL.com.
You have to wonder if Robinson really wants to return and relive that experience. If he's looking for a true fresh start, Alabama is the choice.
It would certainly be a bizarre twist of fate to see Robinson spend his long-awaited debut FBS campaign in crimson, but that's the way things work in college football sometimes. Auburn fans don't need to search far back for an example, as 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton spent his freshman season serving as Tim Tebow's backup at Florida, another fellow SEC foe.
Robinson told 247Sports he aims to announce a decision prior to the start of his sophomore season at Georgia Military College. Several squads will be keeping tabs until then, but it's unlikely any will monitor Robinson more intently than Alabama and Auburn.
Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports
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