DESTIN, Florida — Auburn running back Roc Thomas is leaving the football program.
“Roc Thomas has asked for his release from Auburn and I have granted his request,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said in a statement Tuesday. “We wish him nothing but the best moving forward.”
He is expected to transfer to Jacksonville State. The move, if it happens, would make sense for Thomas. His former high school coach, John Grass, is the head coach at Jacksonville State. The FCS program nearly knocked off then-No. 6 Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium last season, but the Tigers rallied and held on for a victory in overtime.
A former five-star recruit out of Oxford (Ala.) High School, Thomas rushed for 261 yards and a touchdown on 43 carries last season. Rumors swirled about a possible transfer from Thomas in December, which Malzahn quickly shot down saying, “That’s completely false.”
Thomas was battling senior Jovon Robinson and sophomore Kerryon Johnson for Auburn’s starting job in the spring, but appeared to be the second- or third-team option as he developed more as a receiving threat.
Thomas caught 11 passes for 200 yards and one touchdown in 2015, and was transitioning as a threat at slot receiver in the spring.
Thomas appeared to be on the cusp of becoming Auburn’s starting running back until the arrival of Robinson in December 2014. The bigger running back emerged as the go-to option behind Peyton Barber last season. Robinson rushed for 90 yards or more in five of the last six games of the season as Thomas’ role increased at slot receiver.
Thomas was entering his junior season with the Tigers.
“One of the things we did is look at Roc Thomas both as a receiver and running back,” Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton said May 2. “I thought he had a good spring particularly asking him to do some things he hadn’t done before in the slot position. When you look at Roc, you are looking at a player that lead our team last year in yards per carry and lead our team in yards per catch, so he’s someone that obviously we can get some explosive plays from.”