It’s been two arduous years since Auburn defensive back Aairon Savage last played a competitive game of football, his legs ravaged by a pair season-ending injuries that would test the faith of even the most positive person.
But throughout it all — the ACL tear that cost him the 2008 season and the Achilles’ tendon injury that kept him out last year — Savage never wavered in his goal of returning to the field.
“Oh man, how can you let it go?” said Savage, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA last month. “I’ve been doing it since I was 5. It’s just something in me, man. When you’re out there, you’ve got 10 other guys with you. You’re going to war. You’ve got 10 other guys ready to go to war with you, why not go?”
Savage, who turned 23 last month, spoke Wednesday with a wisdom befitting his status as the oldest player on Auburn’s roster.
How old is he? He finished his degree in exercise science … in December 2008.
He’s the only member of Auburn’s 2005 recruiting class still around, a former roommate of departed cornerbacks and close friends Jerraud Powers and Walt McFadden.
He’s old enough to have been recruited by Gene Chizik during his first stint on the Plains, as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.
“When he came back it felt just right,” Savage said. “It felt like a blessing. That’s why I say everything happens for a reason. How ironic is it to have two injuries and have a coach leave who recruited you and a final season when you’re healthy for him to come back and for him to know your story and know how you work? Now it’s just trying to put it on the table for him.”
After what Savage has been through, simply getting back on the field is a major accomplishment. He started 11 games during a promising redshirt freshman season in 2006, earning freshman All-SEC honors after finishing with 53 tackles. He made 26 tackles in 2007 before ankle and shoulder injuries abruptly ended his season.
It was only the beginning of his injury problems. While competing for a starting cornerback job in August 2008, he dislocated his right knee cap and tore both his ACL and MCL. After an offseason of rehab, he practiced last spring, only to tear his Achilles’ tendon last June.
“(I was) just changing directions,” Savage said. “I remember (T’Sharvan Bell) was behind me and I thought he had kicked me, and I looked over and he wasn’t there. And I looked down, I kind of knew what it was. We had just talked about it a week or so before in class, so I knew what it was.”
Despite another lost season, he didn’t give up on football, not with the NCAA likely to grant him a sixth year of eligibility. Savage remained around the team in practice, getting sage advice from a variety of sources.
He spoke with former Auburn defensive tackle Tez Doolittle, who thrived in his sixth year after suffering a similar Achilles’ injury.
Through former Auburn guard Ben Grubbs, a current Baltimore Raven, Savage got in touch with running back Willis McGahee, who returned from a devastating knee injury in his final college game to have a solid NFL career.
“We were doing some of the same things that McGahee was doing already,” Savage said. “He just told me to keep working at it because it will come back.”
Savage, who says he’s 100 percent, doesn’t know where he’ll fit in Auburn’s secondary next season.
“I don’t know why everything happens, but everything happens for a reason,” Savage said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself, a lot about the people that I’ve had around me. I had a very strong support system from (my girlfriend) Shannon, my mom, my family, the guys here, just everybody. … I really feel blessed.”