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May 5, 2011

Memphis boasts pair of nation's best backs

BEST OF BADGER: Alabama | Pitt | UNLV | Tampa | N.J.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Jovon Robinson, a junior at Memphis (Tenn.) Wooddale, was asked for the top running back in his hometown.

"I am, of course," he replied.

Not far away at the Badger Sport camp last weekend, Brian Kimbrow, a junior tailback from Memphis East, looked in Robinson's direction and grinned.

When asked the same question, Kimbrow quickly shot back with a one-word answer.

"Me," Kimbrow said.

Who's really No. 1 in Memphis? That all depends on whom one asks. However, what isn't up for debate is this: Robinson, a 6-foot-1, 218-pounder, and the 5-8, 168-pound Kimbrow, a U.S. Army All-American, rank among the elite nationally.

"Everybody around here knows about them," said Memphis East defensive back/receiver Will Redmond.

It's easy to see why.

Last season, Kimbrow rushed for 1,651 yards and 28 touchdowns while amassing 2,305 all-purpose yards. Robinson, meanwhile, has run for more than 3,800 yards combined the previous two seasons, including 2,000-plus in 2010.

Neither player intends to pick a college any time soon. Robinson, in fact, plans to "ride it out" and announce his destination on signing day.

To date, Kimbrow has more than two dozen offers; Robinson has 10. Kimbrow's offer list includes eight SEC teams, along with Miami, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Stanford and USC.

Florida State, Georgia and Penn State are among those that have offered Robinson, with Notre Dame and USC showing interest.

"The colleges really like what they see on film of Jovon," said Lynord Crutchfield, Robinson's coach at Wooddale. "He's a kid with size who knows how to use his vision and elusiveness. When they see him in person, they love his stature. They think he's a kid they can get the ball to on the college level 25 times a game because of the frame he has."

To say the least, the two longtime friends have different styles. And different body types.

"Kimbrow is one of the quickest and fastest players in the country, and even with his diminutive size, has perfect body structure," said Rivals.com analyst Barry Every. "Robinson is just a big, bruising back. He's a great one-cut player and has extremely soft hands for a big back."

Kimbrow, the fastest of the pair, has run the 100-meter dash in 10.4 seconds and that speed has translated well to the football field, where he averaged nearly 8 yards per carry in 2010.

"For me, it's speed, vision, elusiveness," Kimbrow said. "I get from point A to point B quick. He's more of a power back."

But Kimbrow's physicality is underrated, according to Redmond.

"I've seen him run over people," Redmond said. "He's little but he's got so much heart."

Robinson, who also has excellent speed, like Kimbrow is capable of breaking a long one - multiple long ones. During his junior season, he scored on a 74-yard punt return, 80-yard run and 26-yard reception: in the same game.

"I'm unpredictable," Robinson said. "I hit the hole, I have finesse, I have power. And I've got moves. That's my thing. I'm instinctual. Very instinctual. I don't like anyone touching me."

Kimbrow, who was a tight end all the way up to eighth grade, and Robinson, who started in youth leagues as - of all things - a center, met as freshmen in high school and have talked regularly ever since.

"We're friends," Kimbrow said. "I call him and he calls me. We'll talk about where we're thinking about going (for college) and what it would be like to play with each other."

But

"The way I look at it, he's my competition and I'm his competition," Kimbrow said.

According to Robinson, "it doesn't matter who's better." That said, he confessed he often buys the Memphis Commercial Appeal on Saturday mornings in the fall to check up on Kimbrow.

Redmond, a teammate of both in the 7-on-7 event last weekend, described Kimbrow and Robinson as having a healthy, friendly competition.

"Every time they go somewhere, they say, 'I'm going to be better than you,' " Redmond said. "Their relationship is real good. They're just pushing each other. They never argue. They just compete."

To date, the duo has faced each other only during jamborees and scrimmages. That will change this fall, when East plays host to Wooddale on Sept. 9 in Week 3.

"He knows who's going to come out on top," Kimbrow said.



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