KINGSPORT — Wide receiver Ahmad Paige is leaving Tennessee.
Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Paige confirmed his plans to transfer and cited personal reasons for his departure.
“It’s more of just a personal thing,” he said. “It had nothing to do with the depth chart, because that can always change. This is a tremendous place. I just want a fresh start, and I look at it like I had to take a new journey.”
Paige said he spoke with UT coach Lane Kiffin several times leading up to the decision and that Kiffin was supportive of his decision to transfer, likely closer to his hometown of Monroe, La.
“He’s been really supportive of me,” said Paige, who did not catch a pass last year after redshirting as a true freshman in 2007. “It’s nothing negative. He told me I was a great person and he’d support me.”
Kiffin initially got to know Paige during his time as an assistant at Southern California and had spoken to Paige, who played in the U.S. Army All-American game as a senior in high school.
“We really wish Ahmad the best,” Kiffin said Monday evening before a Big Orange Caravan stop in Kingsport. “I think Ahmad’s a great, great kid. I really enjoyed being around him. Sometimes change is good for people. Sometimes it’s good to get closer to home just for a change. I think he’s kind of narrowed down a couple places closer to where he’s from. Hopefully he’ll do really well.”
Kiffin said he would evaluate any of Paige’s potential destinations to determine a release.
“But we’ll be very lenient on where he can go,” Kiffin said.
Paige said he has his eye on a few different schools, although he declined to name specific schools.
According to Paige, Kiffin gave him his cell phone number and offered to recommend Paige to any future coaches.
Paige was a member of UT’s top-10 signing class in 2007. He maintains close friendships with several of UT’s high-profile signees from that class, including safety Eric Berry, defensive end Ben Martin and wide receiver Gerald Jones.
Those relationships made the choice to leave difficult, Paige said.
“That swayed my decision plenty of times,” Paige said. “I’m real close to Gerald and all those guys. Those guys are forever my friends, but it’s going to be hard leaving those guys. It was great here. Everything you want is here. It’s not like I regret coming here.”
Paige, who was named the Vols' most improved player in spring practice before the 2008 season, becomes the sixth player to leave the program since Kiffin was introduced as UT's head coach Dec. 1.
Tailback Lennon Creer, quarterback B.J. Coleman, as well as offensive linemen Preston Bailey, Donald Langley and Darris Sawtelle also elected not to return.
Counting four players who were dismissed - safety Demetrice Morley, receiver E.J. Abrams-Ward and offensive linemen Ramone Johnson and Darius Myers - 10 UT players won't return to Knoxville next season.
That many departures could result in possible penalties under the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate, which will be released later this summer. Scholarship penalties are only imposed if a team falls below the mandated score of 925 and has an underclassman leave the university while academically ineligible. Because of its past performance, Tennessee would not be subject to any historical penalties under the APR.