Soft Hands, Tough Catch

Since Tennessee's offense will be minus its top three receivers from 2006, the timing is perfect for O.C. David Cutcliffe to add a new Paige to the old play book.

The Vols are looking for impact receivers and appear to have a couple of capable candidates in prep school phenom Brent Vinson as well as JC jet Kenny O'Neal. They are still involved, and appear to be closing ground, with North Carolina wideout Dwight Jones who is a soft commitment to the Tar Heels is also looking at Clemson.

Another intriguing candidate is Sterlington, La., wideout Ahmad Paige, a four-star flyer who runs a 4.4 flat and is an uncommon playmaker. At 6-foot-2, 165 pounds he needs to add size and strength, but he's far from fragile.

Rated the nation's No. 9 receiver by Scout.com Paige's six finalists say even more about his ability — Florida, Florida State, Tennessee, LSU, USC and Georgia. The U.S. Army All-American completes his visits this weekend in Los Angeles and expects to reach his decision soon after.

"I'm going to probably announce after I get back from USC," he told Inside Tennessee. "I don't think it will take long to know."

Paige is an articulate and accommodating young man who talks about what he wants from his college experience with an understated air of confidence.

"I'm looking at the overall feel," he said. "How I fit in with the program and how program fits me. How I feel around the players. How I feel about the overall area; is it somewhere I can live four or five years?

"I'm not really looking at the academic part. Every school I'm considering has just a topnotch academic department. It's hard to say one is better than the other academically. They are all big name schools. It's where I fit in best and where I can come in and play first."

Paige acknowledges the need to add extra muscle, but he still wants an opportunity to compete. Essentially he is looking for the most direct path to playing time.

"I would like to play early," he said. "Pretty much every school I'm looking at I will have a chance to play next season. I'm not going to come in and have it given to me but pretty much every situation I will have a chance to compete for a job."

Other than gaining the strength needed to get off the line against press coverage, Paige has all the other ingredients to become a collegiate standout. He runs excellent routes, has separation speed, sure hands and he can make the tough catch in traffic. He can make things happen with the ball in his hands and he has played wide receiver since the eighth grade.

"Before that I played running back," Paige stated. "I went to a lot of receivers camps as a sophomore and junior. I'm serious about what I do." Paige's high school numbers reflect his businesslike approach. As a junior he caught 45 passes for 1,208 yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 26 yards per reception. As a senior he faced more double coverage along with man and zone combinations. Despite the extra attention Paige had 41 catches for 863 yards and 12 TDs. He also returned a kickoff 98 yards for a score.

The slender sprinter was equally impressive in the recent U.S. Army All-American Bowl while facing some of the nation's premiere DBs. He dove to make one reception and exhibited his elusiveness after another catch.

"Basically it's concentration," he said of making the difficult catch. "People don't drop the ball because they can't catch, they drop the ball because they don't concentrate. In an all-star game the caliber that I was in you've got to concentrate on what you're doing. You get a lot of distractions, a lot of things to get caught up in. You've got to pay attention to what you're doing. You don't want to get caught looking around because there's always a camera watching you.

There are also the sharks lurking in the secondary for the chance to strike you in front of the camera. Fortunately, Paige developed his ability to absorb the punishing blow and make the catch.

"I know one time when I first starting playing varsity football, I was scared," he said. "One time I went over the middle and didn't see this free safety, but the guy hit me and I didn't see him coming. But it didn't hurt at all. It looked bad but as far as it felt it didn't hurt. From then on I wasn't afraid to go across the middle. If you pay attention to what you're doing when they hit you your body will just relax. Basically, you're going to get hit anyway."

Paige has a 37-inch vertical to go up and the body control to come down with the vertical catch. His transcendent talent also invites some flattering comparisons.

"Today I was compared to a body frame like Marvin Harrison," he said. "It seems that everywhere I go they are comparing me to somebody."

His skills have also made him an object of desire for college recruiters from coast to coast. It looked like it would be a short chase when Paige committed to FSU back in September, but he reconsidered and threw open the recruiting process. Ten days ago, he took his official visit to Tallahassee.

Yes, I went to Florida State on the 12th," he confirmed. "I didn't recommit while I was there. I go to USC this weekend and that's it. I've visited Florida, LSU (unofficially), Tennessee and Georgia."

Asked about his trip to Knoxville, Paige said: "The thing about Tennessee is I like the atmosphere and how the players all work together. It was like a big family. And it's hard to disagree with 109,000. The fans are crazy. The atmosphere is crazy for games. It can be the loudest stadium in the country."

Trooper Taylor is recruiting Paige for Tennessee and the two have developed a close relationship.

"It's a great relationship," Paige said. "He's a great guy. I love him to death. He includes me in with his family and everything. I can't say anything bad about him. He's a great, great guy."

Paige also sees it as a positive that Taylor would be his position coach should he choose UT.

"I think they're going to teach the same thing wherever you go," he said. "To me it's about the relationship with a (position) coach off the field. You want to have somebody you can come talk to about things."

That's conversation without a catch.


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