He's back, but not quite better than ever.
Michael Dyer—the offensive MVP of Auburn's BCS title-game victory over Oregon that earned it the 2010 national champoinship—has taken a circuitous route to Louisville, but again finds himself as a piece of a potential national championship puzzle.
Dyer made his return to FBS in Louisville's opener against Ohio, rushing four times for 48 yards and a touchdown. In Louisville's third game of the season—a road game against intra-state rival Kentucky—Dyer earned his first start and rushed for 62 yards on 11 carries.
But for Dyer, it's not just a return to football. His first three games with the Cardinals signified the end of a long and winding journey.
It began when the Little Rock native was suspended from Auburn's 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Virginia. He then left the program in favor of Arkansas State, but was dismissed before playing a game. That led to him to enroll at Arkansas Baptist College, where he attended classes during the 2012-13 school year.
Dyer is back on his feet at Louisville, but he needed help to regain his footing.
Arkansas Baptist president Fitz Hill, the former head football coach at San Jose State and assistant at Arkansas, was instrumental in Dyer's turnaround during his three semesters at the school. In that year, Dyer posted grade-point averages of 3.6, 3.3 and 4.0 on a 4.0 scale, according to AL.com.
"I told Michael (when he got here), 'if I want this more than you, then I'm wasting your time and you're wasting mine'," Hill said. "So I really backed off of him his first semester, and he got involved in our mentoring programs and in the community. I wanted to find out if this is what he really wanted or if he was just passing through. After he made the President's List the first semester, I really started getting involved with him and mentoring him and spending quite a bit of time with him."
Dyer has a chance to be the ultimate college football redemption story.
His departure from Auburn ultimately was his own decision. But his indefinite suspension from the program in 2011 after his sophomore season, coupled with his gun being used in a March 2011 armed robbery clearly had him in former head coach Gene Chizik's doghouse.
However, that wasn't rock bottom for Dyer.
He followed former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State and went through spring practice with the Red Wolves in 2012. But he was dismissed in July for violating team rules after details emerged about a March 2012 traffic stop in which Dyer was found to have a registered gun in his car.
Hill was impressed with Dyer's attitude while at Arkansas Baptist, and hopes the success of Dyer encourages other student-athletes who have run into trouble to follow in his footsteps.
"Hopefully, other student-athletes will come to Arkansas Baptist College and see where you can actually resurrect not only your career but your life by the choices you make, by the people you hang out with, the places you go and the things that you do."
Dyer has been kept kept away from the media for the majority of the time since enrolling at Louisville, but his presence on the team certainly hasn't been an issue so far.
He told USA Today before deciding on a transfer destination that it's all about football in 2013:
I'm only gonna go to school, make good grades and play football. I don't bring anything with me. No registered gun, and I'm not gonna waste your time smoking marijuana. I want to put a jersey on, sweat and play football. I want to show people the true Michael Dyer.
He has a chance to be college football's prodigal son. A wayward soul who squandered a golden opportunity only to find forgiveness and success.
"People are watching him," Hill said. "So he will have an impact on others in similar situations based on his actions. Where he goes, who he hangs out with and stuff he reads. Those are things I've tried to instill in him to see how he's going to pan out. If he does well, he's going to have a positive impact. If he doesn't, he's going to have a negative impact. That's based strictly on his choices."
He's sharing time in the Cardinals' backfield this season with Senorise Perry and junior Dominique Brown, and has yet to become comfortable in his new digs.
"He’s run the ball some, but we’re rotating the backs," head coach Charlie Strong said in his Monday press conference prior to the Kentucky game. "He’s just like the other two. We just need to get him locked in, and he’s just got to continue to get better. He’s still learning the offense for us. You look at a guy who’s been away from the ball for a year. It’s still kind of a learning process for him, also.”
Whether he emerges as an every-down back or remains part of a steady rotation, his experience with Auburn in 2010 is going to be valuable for his new team.
Louisville finds itself on the periphery of the BCS National Championship race, with plenty of hurdles along the way. The Cardinals will be fighting to gain respect in the beauty pageant known as the BCS, which is completely different than Auburn running the table during an investigation into the eligibility of star quarterback Cam Newton.
But the lessons Dyer learned from that season are the same.
Dyer knows the pressures that come from the outside world with the attention that is focused on a team in the chase for the national championship. If and when that happens to this Louisville team, you can bet Strong is going to rely on Dyer to help guide his team through those rocky waters.
Everyone deserves a second chance. A shot at redemption.
Dyer is one of the lucky few to get a third. After leaving his college football family for a year, he has been welcomed back with open arms.
That decision by Strong could result in his program breaking through what seems to be an impenetrable glass ceiling and taking home the crystal football.
"What I tell Michael," Hill said, "is, 'you're writing a book. How this book ends is dependent on your decisions and what you do every single day'."
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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