Sept. 22, 2010
RUSTON, La. - It's 2005 and Olajuwon Paige, having just capped an outstanding prep career at Aiken High School, is working in the fast food industry.
While delivering orders of cherry limeades and extra long cheese coneys as a car hop at Sonic (without the roller skates), Paige thought back to his high school career. He thought about his days as an all-state selection as a quarterback in the state of South Carolina and being named MVP of the Down Under Bowl, a showcase for top high school players that takes place in Australia.
It's tough taking a year off from playing the game that's brought so much success in a person's life. Having played football since the age of five, Paige needed football and didn't want to feel, in his opinion, as a waste of talent.
"I had a lot of athletic ability so I needed to show it and get back to football," Paige said. "It was then I knew I had a love for football."
In the summer of 2006, Paige passed the appropriate test that allowed him to attend college and, as a result, play football. Paige opted to walk-on at Georgia Military College, joining his cousin, Taikwon, at the community college located in Milledgeville, Ga.
It didn't take long for Paige to impress head coach Bert Williams as he awarded him a scholarship halfway through his freshman campaign. It was during his two years at Georgia Military that Paige perfected his transformation from quarterback to cornerback.
"It was easy for me because of my athleticism," Page said of the switch. "I am naturally gifted at corner. I can play any sport you put in front of me."
His father, Jimmy, was a basketball fan, even naming his son after the surname of basketball superstar Hakeem Olajuwon. Paige, known as O-P to his friends, teammates and even teachers, was an all-region performer in basketball and lettered all four years in baseball.
After two successful years, including his sophomore season in which the team captain recorded three interceptions, Paige accepted a scholarship to play at Louisiana Tech, fulfilling his dream of playing NCAA Division I football.
Paige saw Tech as the right fit for him and noticed the progress it had made in recent years, such as a 2008 Independence Bowl win. It didn't take long for Paige's captain status at Georgia Military to rub off on his new teammates and coaches.
"I think with leaders, you have guys who are vocal and you have guys that do things right," said Kevin Curtis, Tech's cornerback coach. "You want a guy that is consistent and does things right on and off the field, and he's a guy that does that. He has the respect of his teammates because he does that, and they see how he works."
That's the type of leader Paige is. He's the quiet, do-the-right-things, take-care-of-business type of leader.
"I don't have to do much talking because Josh Victorian loves to do all the talking," Paige said. "I let him have that. I just listen to coach Curtis and coach (Tommy) Spangler and do what I can. Just to show the younger guys that you don't have to speak, just let your actions show. I leave the talking to Josh; he loves talking."
Paige intends to make the most of his senior year, even with the added depth at his cornerback position. On Tech's roster, nineteen Bulldog players are listed in the secondary, which means there is competition every practice to move up the depth chart. Competition doesn't intimidate Paige, it makes him work harder.
"If one of us goes down, we know that we have another person that can step in, take our place and handle our business," Paige said. "Coach Curtis tells us everyday to work hard, because someone is gunnin' for your spot. It makes us work harder everyday."
Everyday after practice, members of the Tech secondary catch 25 passes before heading into the weight room to work on hand-eye coordination by catching tennis balls launched at them by a machine. The 5-9, 180-pound Paige hopes the extra practice can improve his Tech interception total. He recorded one interception and 21 tackles last season.
First year head coach Sonny Dykes likes what he see's so far from Paige.
"One thing that he's done is he's just made plays," Dykes says. "If you go back and look at our scrimmages, he's at the right place at the right time. He's done some really good things. He's a guy that does a lot of the little things right and has really played up to his potential. He has made everybody better."
In five years, Paige went from a high school standout to a walk-on at the community college level to now living his dream at Louisiana Tech by becoming an NCAA Division I scholarship student-athlete.
"He's been great to have, and I've enjoyed coaching him," Curtis said. "He's done everything I've asked him to do. He's constantly out here giving it his all. He's a great story and a great example of what a young man should be. It was a situation where it wasn't easy, but he fought and did the right things and it paid off for him. It's continued to pay off for him now."