The Long Journey Of An Auburn Man

              

                                                          

    His coach say's, "He's a great story." He says he has "a love and a passion (for football) that won't go away."

 

His dreams of a promising college football career must have seemed shattered as he was carted off the practice field with another injury on a hot August day in 2008. He had been named to Freshman All SEC and All American teams just two years before. He was going to be "the man" that year on defense but providence had a different plan for Auburn's Aairon Savage.

On the last play of practice he went up to catch a pass, landed on his knee and fell to the ground with screams of pain. He barely moved as he was taken off the field on a stretcher. It was later learned that he suffered three serious injuries on that one play. He dislocated his right kneecap, and tore both the anterior cruciate (ACL) and medial collateral (MCL) ligaments. One play - three serious injuries. Would he ever play again? Most who witnessed the event did not have much hope that he would. Nevertheless, after Aairon had surgery he went to work rehabbing and training to make it back.

After a year of rehab and conditioning he came back to the field in 2009 and beat out one of his best friends, Walter McFadden, for the starting corner back position. Then fate raised her ugly head once more. During summer workouts he was injured yet again, this time with a torn Achilles tendon. Most believed this had to be the final blow to his college football career. For the second consecutive year Aairon Savage's football season was over weeks before the start of the first game. However, Aairon told himself it was not over. He said, "How could I walk away from it? I have been doing this since I was five years old. If you've got 10 guys ready to go to war with you, why not go?" Aairon had to come back.

And now he is back ... but it was a long road back. Some of the incoming freshmen were just 12 years old in 2004 when Auburn's (then) Defensive Coordinator, Gene Chizik recruited him out of Westover High School in Albany, Ga.  He was redshirted in 2005, played every game in 2006, missed six games in 2007 due to shoulder and ankle injuries, missed 2008 due to knee injuries, and missed all of 2009 due to the Achilles injury. Finally in February, 2010 the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility.

In the two and a half years since he played sparingly in the 2007 Iron Bowl, Savage has also worked hard academically and earned two degrees. He graduated this summer with a masters degree in bio mechanics. Coach Gene Chizik said, "He's a great story. He's a tough guy ... he's a football player, and he's a leader. We're blessed to have young leadership and his persistence to fight through so many things that could bring you down. He's a great Auburn man."

Every year the football careers of dozens of players are cut short by injuries but Aairon has taken the road less traveled; he has come back time and time again. He says, "it's just a love and a passion that won't go away. I'm not the first guy to get hurt and I won't be the last." He said this new chance "means the world to me" and he looks upon his trials as a chance to be a blessing.

"It's good to be an example for others that you can have injuries like that and come back and play at a higher level." He added, "God doesn't make any mistakes. Everything happens for a reason." One of those reasons just may have been for him to be there for his close friend and fellow teammate Zac Etheridge.

Everyone remembers when Etheridge suffered a serious neck injury in last year's Ole Miss game. I know I do. In my more than 35 years of holding season tickets, I have never witnessed a more scary moment on Pat Dye Field. I now know what it's like to be in a place where over 87,000 people are praying at the same time. That was the quietest moment I have ever experienced at Jordan-Hare. The medical staff  worked on Zac for over 10 minutes as he lay motionlesss. Prayers went up all over the stadium and tears came down on many faces when Zac gave the thumbs up as he was being rolled off the field.

Many wondered if he would ever be able to lead a normal life let alone play football again. But like his friend Aairon, Zac had other ideas. On July 20th, Dr James Andrews cleared Zac Etheridge to return to football. Coach Chizik said the news was "great for Zac and an incredible feeling for our whole football team. Everyone has an extremely high regard for Zac as a player and a member of our football team. We're excited about having him back."

Zac credits Aairon as one of the ones that helped him make it back. Our "friendship is very special. We do a lot of things together, just feeding off each other." Aairon "has been through the process before. He motivated me when I got down, keeping me positive."

Now the two warriors will take their final Auburn journey together. They both say their goal is for the journey to end with a championship. Well regardless of whether they see that goal accomplished or not, these two men are now, and forever ... Champions to the Auburn family!

Welcome back guys.

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