Making the Tough Decision To Stay Or Go

<b>Editor's Note: This is the third of a summer series of in-depth feature articles on current or former Auburn athletes.</b>

Auburn, Ala.--For cornerback Lamel Ages, saying goodbye to his current teammates and coaches isn't going to be easy. However, the fifth-year senior football player from Columbus, Ga., says he thinks it is the right decision.

The former walk-on is on schedule to graduate at Auburn with a degree in public administration in August. Then he plans to transfer to a Division I-AA program at Tennessee State University in Nashville where he will be immediately eligible to compete for a starting job as graduate student with one season of eligibility.

"It was a very hard decision to make with me being here for four and a half years and playing with these guys I came in with like Junior (Rosegreen), Donnay (Young), Jason (Campbell) and Ronnie (Brown)," Ages says. "It was very difficult making a decision to leave those guys and the leaving the coaches, too.

Quick feet and toughness enabled Ages (26) to play for the Tigers despite being undersized at cornerback.

"Coach Yox (strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall), Coach Chizik (defensive coordinator and secondary coach Gene Chizik) and Coach Tuberville (head coach Tommy Tuberville) have been very supportive," Ages says. "Also, Chette Williams (team chaplain) has been supportive. It is almost like leaving your family.

"It was really a very hard decision to make, but it is a decision I needed to make," Ages adds. "It was basically a decision based on more playing time. I sat down and talked to Coach Tuberville and Coach Chizik and really discussed it through and through going over all of the options. With this being my last year, I want to get the maximum out of my playing time that I could."

Ages is friends with former Carver High and Auburn defensive back Roderick Hood, who just completed his rookie season in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. Ages is looking to follow the same path and get a shot at pro football.

Ages (26) is shown during a tackle drill.

His path with Hood goes back to their high school days as teammates at Carver when they split time at quarterback and cornerback when Ages was a junior. Hood walked on at Auburn the next year and eventually won a starting job and scholarship. Ages also walked on at Auburn and earned a scholarship, however, he hasn't cracked the starting lineup and that appeared to be a longshot this year with Carlos Rogers and Montae Pitts returning plus newcomer David Irons, Jr., a potential starter.

Ages, who is 5-9, 187 pounds, was scheduled to be a backup cornerback and see playing time on special teams again this year. However, he reasons that to have a shot at pro ball he needs to be a starter and that Tennessee State gives him the best opportunity to get a shot at his dream.

"Randy Fuller, the secondary coach at Tennessee State, is from my hometown," Ages says. "He played at Spencer High and went on to the NFL. My family knew his family. Once I decided to make a decision about transferring I got in contact with him and talked about the situation and felt real comfortable with him being my coach."

Both of Tennessee State's starters last season were seniors and the starting jobs are wide open at the college in Nashville. "They were basically depending on some freshmen trying to come in and play cornerback so it is a great opportunity for me," Ages says.

Ages has steadily improved since arriving at Auburn as a quick, but undersized defensive back in August 2000. He showed promise and redshirted that first season. He saw his first game action in the fall of 2001 as he made two tackles while playing in six games. He continued to improve and in August of 2002 he was placed on scholarship. He saw action in 13 games as a defensive back and special teams performer as a redshirt sophomore. He recovered a fumble, made seven solo tackles and two assists. Last season as a junior he was in on 14 tackles and was named Special Teams Player of the Week in Auburn's victory at Vanderbilt.

"The number one goal when I came to college was to get a degree," he says. "That is something my parents have always stressed to me. Fortunately enough, I have been put in that situation thanks to a lot of help from (academic counselors) Troy Smith and Virgil Starks who have helped keep me on the right track. A big part of me getting my degree is Coach Tuberville emphasized that to me and the rest of the team. You know, we have a lot of guys who are here who are going to graduate this summer."

Ages notes that he will be leaving the Tigers in August with no hard feelings. He says he appreciates the opportunity to play at Auburn and do it as a scholarship player the past two years. "It was truly a blessing. I really thank the Lord for that. Coach Tuberville and the whole coaching staff, plus my teammates, were real supportive of me."

The defensive back still has his excellent quickness, but has made major strides in his pass coverage skills. "I am an all-around better football player now than when I arrived," Ages notes. "I have learned so much in college being around this coaching staff. This is a top-rated program and Coach Yox's strength and conditioning program is tops, bar none. From talking around to people I have been told you can't be around a better environment. I have really learned how to be a student of the game.

"When I first got here I was probably about 5-7, 165 so I have grown about 2 1/2 inches and gained about 20 pounds. That has been through a lot of hard work and having Coach Yox staying after us doing whatever was necessary to get stronger and get better."

Freshman Eric Brock (33) gets a lesson on technique from Ages (26).

Ages says he has received a lot of feedback from his coaches and friends on the team concerning the decision to transfer. "A lot of people I am close to came and talked to me and basically wanted to see what was going on and told me what they thought," the senior says. "They also understood where I was coming from. I am thankful that this hasn't turned into a negative situation and everybody has kind of understood. I think everybody is hoping that I do well just like I am hoping everybody here does well."

Tiger Ticket Extra: Although Roderick Hood is in the NFL and Ages will soon be leaving, the Tigers will continue their recent tradition of having a walk-on defensive back from Carver High on the roster. Gerald Williams, a 5-9, 192 junior, shared playing time at quarterback and cornerback with Ages when Williams was a high school junior. He walked on at Auburn in 2001 and redshirted. He played in five games last year with the highlight an intercepted pass against Louisiana-Monroe.

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