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How former Auburn running back Jovon Robinson veered off track

Former Auburn running back Jovon Robinson warms up prior to game against Idaho.
Former Auburn running back Jovon Robinson warms up prior to game against Idaho. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Former Auburn running back Jovon Robinson had the makings of a charismatic superstar.

Georgia Military College offensive coordinator Ross Robinson compares seeing Jovon running over the competition in Milledgeville to seeing Adrian Peterson play for Oklahoma as an assistant on Watson Brown’s staff at UAB in 2006.

How did such a talented young man veer off track culminating with his dismissal from the team Wednesday?

Behind Jovon’s engaging personality masked deep insecurity tracing back to his challenging upbringing. Jovon’s father Jeffery Robinson was killed by the Memphis Police Department in a botched drug raid, a tragedy that made developing personal relationships a challenge for the running back.

“He had a rough home life,” Ross said. “He didn’t trust anyone. He was a loner.”

When an academic scandal at Wooddale High School cost Jovon his initial Division 1 eligibility, Ross was the assistant responsible for recruiting the back.

The two established a bond with Ross extending an open door policy to Jovon. The then college freshman was even close with Ross’ son Owen. Ross’ relationship with Jovon remained just as strong when the running back made the jump into the SEC.

“He was like part of our family,” Ross said. “We talked at least once a week.”

It was evident to the coach Auburn was planning to discipline Jovon in some way, but Wednesday’s news still hit him hard.

Ross spent time this month talking about the situation with coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who the GMC coach describes as a friend, working to try to repair a fractured relationship between Jovon and the coaching staff.

Jovon had issues upon arriving on campus, but seemed to have turned a corner this spring as indicated by running backs coach Tim Horton.

But the positive vibes didn’t last with the running back felling increasingly distanced from his coaches and teammates going into Auburn’s summer workouts. The situation quickly reached a boiling point.

“Jovon behaved like a turd,” Ross said. “He wasn’t doing what he was supposed to be doing in the class room, the weight room and in meetings.”

GMC head coach Bert Williams backed up Ross’ account Friday morning. According to Williams, Jovon’s behavior put the running back in a tenuous position.

“He had some things he had to do to get back in the good graces of the team’s leaders and coaches,” Williams said.

Incidents in recent weeks — AL.com’s James Crepea reported it was separate disagreements with teammate Marshall Taylor and an unidentified female — that forced Malzahn’s decision.

Malzahn denied Taylor was involved with Robinson’s situation during a press conference Thursday, and the defensive back remained on the team “as of now.”

A university spokesperson declined an opportunity to comment on Robinson’s dismissal Friday morning. Coach Malzahn said Thursday he was done talking about the situation.

Ross talked around specific details of the events by saying Jovon ran out of second chances, getting emotional multiple times talking about his former player’s situation.

“I back Gus 1,000 percent,” Ross said. “He did nothing but love Jovon from day one. He treated him like a king. It was Jovon’s failure at living up to the standards they set. It all falls on Jovon’s shoulders. I talked to Gus this morning, and he said, “Ross, you know how many chances I gave him.”

It’s a different picture than Jovon painted of his relationship with Malzahn in his only interview since the announcement. Jovon told AL.com on Thursday the coaching staff “stereotyped and disrespected” him.

Ross disagrees.

“He said they didn’t care about him, they didn’t like him,” Ross said. “It was a pity party. I told him there are 48 other guys on that team are as good as you. You have to earn it. You have to buy in.”

What made Wednesday’s news so disappointing for Ross is the coach knows Jovon is capable of being an excellent student and teammate.

“He was perfect for us,” Ross said. “He was always the first guy in and last guy off the field.”

Ross can’t say for sure if anyone at Auburn paid Robinson extra attention it would have made a difference, but at various times during the running back’s tenure at GMC its what helped Jovon stay on track.

“I told Gus from day one you know what you are getting,” Ross said. “He knew what kind of kid Jovon was, knew he needed a little extra care. If Jovon had that he would run through a brick wall for you.”

As for Jovon’s future, the running back will have his pick of whatever Division 2 or NAIA school he wants, but Ross said pursuing a final year of college eligibility isn’t what the running back needs.

“He needs to go to Canada,” Ross said. “West Georgia wants him. They were trying to get him up there today, but he’s not going to survive college. He needs to get a contract and see how it works out.”

Ross remains invested in the outcome.

The two have talked “26 or 27 times” in the last 48 hours and hopes the disappointing chapter isn’t the end of Jovon’s once promising career.

“I knew it was coming, I tried to help,” Ross said. “I’ve never seen anything like Jovon. I hate this for him.”