Turning the Paige

He was asked about his weight so often the past few months he must've felt more like a jockey preparing for the Kentucky Derby than a receiver preparing for spring practice.

The questions have come to a grinding halt, however. Redshirt freshman receiver Ahmad Paige rendered them moot with his performances in Tennessee's past two spring scrimmages.

How much does he weigh these days? Enough.

Enough to be another weapon in Tennessee's offensive arsenal. Enough to catch seven passes for 73 yards in the Vols' second full-scale scrimmage. Enough to catch three passes for 26 yards in the third. Enough to record the longest reception of the spring, a 38-yarder on April 5. Enough is ... well, enough.

Big plays are nothing new for Paige, who averaged an eye-popping 26.8 yards per catch as a junior at Sterlington High in Monroe, La. He averaged 21.0 as a senior and was selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Game. Not surprisingly, he was one of the most celebrated members of Tennessee's 2007 signing class.

When Paige reported to UT packing just 175 pounds on his 6-1 frame, however, his wiry build got even more publicity than his glowing resume'. The questions died down a bit when he redshirted last fall but picked up again in the weeks leading up to spring practice.

Interestingly enough, Paige heard the question more from his own coaches than he did from pesky reporters.

"At the beginning of the spring, the coaches were asking me a lot of questions about it," he recalls. "They wanted me to gain another 10 pounds."

As the scrimmage catches began to increase, however, the weight questions showed a corresponding decrease.

"I don't know what I weigh now," Paige says. "I haven't gotten on scales in about a week and a half. Now that I'm catching balls and kind of tearing it up a little bit – showing 'em I'm durable – the coaches haven't really questioned me about it."

Paige's eye-catching performances this spring are not surprising. He's just beginning to show the skills Tennessee knew he had when it signed him.

"I'm doing better," he says. "It's a gradual process, and I'm just trying to get better every day."

After being a superstar in high school, Paige's confidence took a bit of a hit last fall. Classmates Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones earned playing time as freshman receivers. Paige did not. Now that his confidence has returned, he should be a significant contributor for the 2008 Vols.

"The big difference between last fall and now is just basically being comfortable in what I'm doing and how I'm progressing," he says. "I'm more confident and learning how to work and use my abilities."

He's also learning how to fit into new coordinator Dave Clawson's West Coast Offense. Asked how it differs from the attack Tennessee played last fall, Paige answered without hesitation.

"Detail. There's a lot more detail in this offense," he said. "Everything is more about timing and everything. Last year it was more about running to areas. This year it's more of a line drive, which is good because you can hit the holes (soft spots) and see seams a lot better."


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