Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AUBURN, Ala. -- Aairon Savage greets the question with an are-you-kidding grimace.

The Auburn defensive back has missed the past two seasons with offseason injuries and earned his degree long ago. Was it tempting to move on instead of taking advantage of a sixth year of eligibility granted recently by the NCAA?

"Oh man. How can you let it go?" Savage, a former Westover star, responded Wednesday. "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?"

The Tigers' secondary could certainly use the reinforcements.

Savage started 11 games at safety as a redshirt freshman and was third on the team in tackles. Then the injury woes started: He played in only seven games in 2007 with ankle and shoulder injuries, then tore a knee ligament in preseason drills that sidelined him for the following season.

Savage, who graduated in December 2008, had worked his way back from that injury but tore an Achilles tendon last June during a routine summer workout with teammate T'Sharvan Bell.

"I remember T-Bell was behind me and I thought he had kicked me, and I looked over and he wasn't there," said Savage, who is in graduate school. "I looked down, and I kind of knew what it was."

Savage was sidelined for a losing season in 2008 that ended with the ouster of coach Tommy Tuberville. Last season, injuries to defensive backs Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil depleted an already thin group. That forced the Tigers to move junior college transfer Demond Washington from cornerback to safety and start freshman Darren Bates in every game.

The 23-year-old Savage said he got through his troubles with a strong support group, including his girlfriend Shannon, and counsel from NFL players like Willis McGahee and Kendall Simmons.

Doesn't he feel snakebit?

"No, I feel blessed," Savage said. "With my support system, I found out a lot about myself. Everything happens for a reason. You don't question God."

And you don't give up a game that's been such a big part of your life either.

"It's just a love and a passion that won't go away," Savage said.

Savage made 61 tackles and had three interceptions his senior year at Westover High School. After being redshirted in 2005 at Auburn, Savage earned a starting job at safety the next season. During the 2006 campaign, he was named the Southeastern Conference's Freshman of the Week after tying for the team lead with six tackles in a 23-17 win against Mississippi. He also made his first collegiate interception during that game.

In 2007, he missed six games due to injury and had 26 tackles in seven contests.

Going into 2008, Savage was tied atop the preseason depth chart at right cornerback with Walter McFadden before injuring his ACL.