Olajuwon Paige's first passion was playing sports. He always wanted to play professionally, and he got a brief chance to do so.
His second passion: coaching.
That's the one he's been pursuing in recent years. Now, the former Aiken High football star will get a chance to continue that passion at his alma mater.
The 31-year-old Aiken native was introduced as the new head football coach at Aiken High on Tuesday evening.
"I'm excited. This is a dream of mine," Paige said. "This is my stomping ground. This is where I was born and raised. I interviewed for some other jobs and it didn't go the way I wanted to go, but getting this one definitely means much more."
Another head coaching vacancy in Aiken County has been filled.
Paige's most recent coaching job was as an assistant on Dan Pippin's staff at Greenwood High.
He fills the void left by J.W. Montgomery, who resigned in order to spend more time raising his children after his wife died in April. Paige will not be taking over the athletic director duties. The school is still in the decision-making process for that position.
Paige will be the third different head coach the program has had in the past four years. Aiken went 1-8 last season. Paige said he's looking at the bigger picture when it comes to turning around the Hornets' fortunes.
"I told my coaching staff, 'I don't want to build a team.' If you build a team you're going to be successful for one year. I want to build a program," Paige told a crowd gathered in the Aiken High cafeteria to meet him. "When you build a program, you're going to see changes throughout, and then you see state championship runs and playoff runs. When you start seeing that you start to get excited about football season when it comes back around."
Paige knows something about winning. He was the star quarterback for the Aiken Hornets in the early 2000s. He led the Hornets to the Upper State championship game in his senior season. He accounted for more than 1,600 total yards of offense and 17 touchdowns that season. He graduated in 2005 and played college football at Louisiana Tech.
Paige said one of his immediate priorities is getting the community on board with his vision for the future of Aiken High Football.
"It's a process that I want people to know," Paige said. "I want to be able to get out there and listen to what you have to say. I plan on doing things in the community or even hosting meetings with the community and the alumni to see what I can do to get you back at the games and what I can do to get you to invest in what we're doing."