By Chris Mahr
Not everyone is ready to believe that Michael Dyer is a changed young man. And that’s to be expected.
It would be one thing if Dyer had just one black mark on his record to come back from, yet he has two: His indefinite suspension from the Auburn football program prior to the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl for a violation of team rules and his short-lived tenure at Arkansas State following a March 2012 traffic stop for speeding and possession of a gun and marijuana.
What’s more, these two incidents took place within four months of one another. Two times in seven months, Dyer found himself on the outs of two separate college football programs.
I can’t say if Dyer’s character rehabilitation over the past year has been successful. I won’t be able to until he completes this season, should he do so without incident. But I’m cautiously optimistic that he’ll do so.
Last year, Dyer looked at the long road that was ahead of him to salvage his damaged-goods reputation. And unlike a lot of players, he displayed a willingness to travel it.
College football wouldn’t be college football without the litany of players who, through self-inflicted means, blew their chance to play at the sport’s highest level and (in some cases) a straight shot to NFL riches — after which they had to ply their trade in more humble (read: FCS or Division II) environs.
Janoris Jenkins went from Florida to North Alabama. Isaiah Crowell went from Georgia to Alabama State. But unlike Dyer, those players — and others before and after them — never lost football. Even after being dismissed from their FBS teams, they got back on the field more or less right away.
After being dismissed from Arkansas State last July, Dyer could’ve found another team to suit up for. Being a former BCS National Championship Game MVP and First Team All-SEC performer has a way of opening a lot of doors and generating new opportunities in dire (no pun intended) times.
Yet either due to self-recognition or heeding the wise advice of those around him, Dyer chose to give up football for a year, to delay his development as a player in favor of his redevelopment and rehabilitation as a person and a law-abiding citizen.
And so it came to be that Dyer spent the past year at Arkansas Baptist College in his hometown of Little Rock, earning an Associate’s Degree while giving motivational speeches to local youth and receiving guidance from school president (and former San Jose State head coach) Fitz Hill.
“I want to clear my name,” Dyer told Grantland’s Bryan Curtis in July. “I’m going back and learning everything I should have learned, that I should have stayed and listened to, that I should have been awakened to.”
Need further proof that Dyer could be in this whole image rehabilitation thing for the long haul? Rather than signing with a team where his past accomplishments at Auburn would guarantee his being a featured player, he signed with Louisville — where, heading into the season, he’s third on the Cardinals’ running back depth chart.
It’s far from the ideal location for Dyer if his No. 1 priority is to impress NFL scouts. He recognized in Louisville a place where he could work his way back into scouts’ favor as well as a head coach in Charlie Strong who would be good for his image overhaul.
Simultaneously, he’s primed to remind people that he’s still the same guy who broke Bo Jackson’s freshman rushing record at Auburn and had that game-changing run in that BCS title game two-and-a-half years ago. Does the player below look like someone who has let himself go after not playing college football for nearly two years?
The red flags from Dyer’s Auburn and Arkansas State days still fly in the background. But he’s given hope to those closest around him as well as random college football fans. Hope that he can be the same player he was before. Hope that he keeps his head on straight this time.
Dyer still has work to do in both these regards. But for a player keen on changing people’s perceptions of him, he’s on the right track.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.