Sophomore receiver Ahmad Paige, a former U.S. Army All-American, today confirmed plans to transfer to a school nearer his Monroe, La., home. He thus becomes the 10th player to leave the Vol program since Kiffin was announced as the new head coach on Dec. 1.
The previous departures were: receiver E.J. Abrams-Ward (dismissed), offensive tackle Ramone Johnson (dismissed), offensive lineman Darius Myers (dismissed), offensive lineman Preston Bailey, tailback Lennon Creer, safety Demetrice Morley (dismissed), guard Donald Langley, guard Darris Sawtelle and quarterback B. J. Coleman.
Of the 10 players mentioned above, only Morley projected to start. Coleman was competing for a first-team job, while Johnson and Bailey could have been in the offensive line rotation if they'd stuck around. The other six, including Paige, were third-teamers at best.
Although many Vol fans will grieve the departure of such a celebrated prospect as Paige, the change of scenery should be a plus for him and Tennessee. Simply put, he is one of those players whose brilliance at the high school level has not translated to the college level.
Consider: In his junior and senior seasons at Sterlington High School Paige caught 86 passes for a combined 2,071 yards (24.1 per catch) and 29 touchdowns. At Tennessee, however, he redshirted in 2007 and failed to register a reception in 2008 ... unless you count a five-catch, 93-yard performance in a junior varsity game against Hargrave Military.
The arrival of a new coaching staff was supposed to give Paige a fresh start this spring but he hit the brick wall behind Neyland Stadium's South end zone attempting to reel in a pass during the Vols' first pull-pads practice. The resulting neck injury was not serious but Paige was held out of practice for a couple of weeks as a precaution and fell even further behind the other receivers.
Although he returned in time to participate in the three major scrimmages, he caught just two passes for 34 yards. Listed fourth-team on Tennessee's post-spring depth chart, Paige ranked no better than seventh among Vol receivers behind Gerald Jones, Quintin Hancock, Denarius Moore, Brandon Warren, Austin Rogers and Tyler Maples.
With heralded wideout signees Nu'Keese Richardson and James Green joining the mix in August, Paige's prospects for 2009 were dim indeed. Basically, the young man saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to move on.