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Savage back home at Auburn

AUBURN – For Aairon Savage, it seems so long ago. He didn’t have many scholarship offers when he traveled from his home Albany to Auburn in the summer of 2004 for a one-day camp. He hoped to make an impression. And he did.

Aairon Savage wants to be a coach.

Savage met Auburn’s defensive coordinator that day. His name was Gene Chizik. Soon after, Chizik and cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley decided Savage would be offered a scholarship.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Savage says. “I came to a one-day camp and Coach Lolley and Coach Chizik saw me. It took off from there. (Chizik) always had those open arms. You do the right thing and everything will take care of itself. He’s a very family-oriented guy, and I love that.”

Thus began an adventure that was sometimes exhilarating, but one that tested Savage in ways he never imagined. Seven years after that summer camp, Savage is a quality control assistant on Chizik’s Auburn staff.

“It’s been a crazy ride, but it’s been a blessing,” Savage says. “It’s home. Just like everybody says when you first come to Auburn, it grows on you and you become Auburn. You bleed orange and blue.”

By the time Savage arrived on campus in the summer of 2005, Chizik had gone to Texas and had been replaced by Will Muschamp. It didn’t matter. After a redshirt season, Savage was a freshman All-SEC selection and a key player in the secondary in 2006. But in 2007, he missed part of the season with injuries. That was just the start.

A major knee injury in the preseason cost Savage what would have been his junior season in 2008. He could only watch as the Tigers went 5-7 and Tommy Tuberville left after 10 seasons as head coach. Inspired by Chizik’s return as a head coach, he returned for his fifth season in 2009. But a torn Achilles in preseason practice ended that season before it started. The NCAA agreed to a sixth season of eligibility, but in the seventh game of last season, a leg injury ended his playing career.

“My deal was injuries,” Savage says. “For other people, there are other things. I can’t question why. There is a reason for everything. Maybe one day when I get up top I can answer that question.”

Savage was no different than most when he arrived at Auburn. He wanted to play in the NFL. If that didn’t work out, he wanted to be a chiropractor. But that isn’t the direction his life has taken. His plan now is to be a coach, to make a difference in young men’s lives.

And though he can’t on the field, he says he learns valuable lessons every day.

“I love it,” Savage says. “I get to wake up and communicate with guys and try to help them grow as people. That’s the biggest thing to me. These guys are 19-20 years old. To be that last influence on their lives and help them before they get into the real world is huge to me.

“It’s more than football. I want them to know to use football as a tool and get what you can get out of it, then live a productive life and be productive citizens.”

Savage watched from the sideline last January as his teammates beat Oregon 22-19 to win the BCS national championship. It was a goal he and his freshman class set all those years ago when they arrived full of hope and optimism on the heels of a 13-0- season in 2004.

“There were a lot of mixed emotions,” Savage says. “Everybody grows up wanting to play in the Super Bowl or the NCAA Championship, but I was happy that Auburn was represented. We’ve been trying to get there for a minute. That was much bigger than me being out there.

“For us to win it, that’s a lot of hard work for the guys that came long before us and laid those bricks. Just to be part of the banner on top of that stadium that says ‘national championship’ is huge.”

Savage returned to Auburn, then took a job as an assistant coach at Atlanta Sports Academy, a new prep school in Atlanta. He coached there in the spring. A call from Chizik changed everything.

“To be back here,” Savage says, “it’s like being at home. That’s all I can say.”

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