Albany's Savage out for Auburn's BCS title game

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AUBURN -- On Jan. 11 -- one day after the BCS National Championship game between Auburn and Oregon -- Albany natives and former Westover star brothers Aairon and Antwone Savage could become the first sibling duo from Southwest Georgia to win national title rings.

Only there will be one major difference in their accomplishments: Antwone, a receiver, had a chance to get on the field and play in his team's national title appearance in 2000 with Oklahoma, while Aairon -- a defensive back for the Tigers -- will not.

That was the official word late Monday when Auburn coach Gene Chizik all but ruled out Aarion, who was injured during the Tigers' 65-43 win against Arkansas on Oct. 16, while his older brother made it clear Tuesday to The Herald what Aairon's role will be Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.

"He's going out there with the team but ... nah, he ain't going to play," Antwone lamented. "He's down, sure, because he can't play. But he also knows life goes on. I think he's just tired of being cut on."

That reference, of course, is to the multiple surgeries Aairon has had since coming to The Plains in 2005 following a stellar high school career at Westover. Savage redshirted in 2005, then played all of 2006 -- finishing third on the team in tackles (53).

Then came a rash of injuries you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.

After being named to the All-SEC Team in preseason as a sophomore, Aarion missed half of the 2007 season due to injury, then all of 2008 and 2009 -- Achilles tears both times -- before courageously returning this year once the NCAA granted him a medical redshirt and fifth year of eligibility this past offseason.

But just seven games into the Tigers' 2010 campaign, Savage broke a bone in his ankle against Arkansas, had surgery the next day and hoped to return for the Iron Bowl against Alabama.

That, of course, never happened.

"It doesn't look like (Aarion playing is) going to be a possibility right now," Chizik told The Dothan (Ala.) Eagle after Monday's practice for No. 1-ranked Auburn (13-0), which will face the No. 2 Ducks (12-0) for the BCS title. "Aairon's really doing a great job being around on our team as a leader and really almost taking on a coaching role for us."

And while Aairon would certainly rather be on the field than wearing a headset on the sidelines come Jan. 10, fellow senior defensive star Josh Bynes, a linebacker, told The Eagle that Savage's knowledge as the Tigers' most veteran player is invaluable.

"He's just being supportive as much as he can. It's sad and of course it's your last year, you want to be out there, especially this game -- the national championship -- you want to play in it," Bynes said. "I know for a fact that he's with us each and every day, trying to enjoy this moment while he can."

In what amounts to really about two total seasons played -- injury-free -- for Aairon in five years, he's recorded 116 tackles, one interception and two QB sacks. He graduated earlier than most student-athletes, earning his bachelor's degree in exercise science in 2008, and then his master's degree in May.

Savage's father, Alphonso, told The Herald in October shortly after the injury that he didn't see any reason why his son wouldn't be able to return by the Iron Bowl, but at the very least, would be back for whatever bowl game Auburn -- ranked No. 7 at the time -- ended up in.

"Hopefully, he'll be back for Alabama, but definitely for (Auburn's) bowl game, as long as everything goes OK (with his recovery)," Alphonso said. "It's broken, and he's in a lot of pain. But it's not career-ending. It's not even season-ending. We're just glad it wasn't his knee."

But this particular injury -- a broken bone in Aairon's right ankle, which required a routine surgical procedure that took only a couple of hours to repair -- proved to be more trying than anyone imagined.

"I saw him just a couple of days ago over (in Auburn) and he's walking around just fine (without crutches or anything)," said Antwone, who is a P.E. coach at Turner Elementary in Albany and is currently preparing for his second season with the Albany Panthers of the Southern Indoor Football League, which begins in March. "But he told me when he wakes up every morning, it's stiff and he's still having to go to rehab a lot. And he just finally decided it ain't really worth it. Everyone knows he wants to play, but he also wants to be able to walk around (later in life) without any problems and be able to play with his kids someday. That's what it really came down to.

"There's just more to life (than football)."