COVINGTON, OHIO – It has been a memorable journey for 2014 Covington graduate A.J. Ouellette – a journey starting as an unknown walk-on from tiny Covington, Ohio to where he became one of the program’s best players in the history of Ohio University football.
Just last Wednesday, Ouellette capped his amazing career at OU by leading the Bobcats to a 27-0 win over San Diego State in the DXL Frisco Bowl in Frisco, Texas. In the process, he was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after rushing for 164 yards on 29 carries and catching 2 passes for another 33 yards.
It was the final curtain call for a player who became the face of Bobcat football throughout his time in Athens. He left a legacy of greatness through his toughness, dedication, selflessness and love for the game, his teammates and his community.
With his collegiate career in the books, Ouellette sat down to reflect on his experience and communicate his future plans in a Q&A interview.
QUESTION: Now that your collegiate career is over, can you reflect on the journey and what you’ve been able to accomplish at Ohio University?
ANSWER: Obviously, I started out as a walk-on. They (OU) gave me a shot to prove myself and after the second week of camp they gave me a scholarship. The coaches told me they hadn’t seen a work ethic like mine and that work ethic comes from high school coaches and teammates who showed me how to work hard early on. In my first game (against Kent State) I was on all special teams and the fifth-string running back. We had some injuries and some fumbling problems in the game that allowed me to get in late in the game. On the game-winning drive I had some carries that helped set up the game-winning field goal. After that I basically moved up the depth chart each week and by the fourth game I was the starter. That was our home opener and my first one-hundred-yard game. That kind of opened up the door for me and I never looked back. I just kept that same work ethic through my freshman year and before my sophomore year I gained a bunch of weight thinking I needed to be a bigger back. It made me a little slower, which fit the offense that year because we had two other backs who were quick. Going into my true junior year I had a great first couple of plays in the season opener, but ended up tearing three ligaments in my foot, so I was forced to redshirt. I ended up coming back for my redshirt junior year stronger and a little bit faster, so we were happy going into the year. That year I had my first one-thousand-yard season and we had a big bowl win (Bahamas Bowl).
QUESTION: How difficult was it to come back from your injury?
ANSWER: We thought it was going to be a big setback for a running back, coming off of foot surgery where I was limited for three months, but I showed up every day willing to work and did what the athletic trainers told me to do. On the side I did everything I could to get stronger with the strength staff. I had to wear insoles in my shoe and adding them both up they were about two pounds, which sucked because I couldn’t bend my foot and it limited me in breaking the long runs like I wanted. After that season we went back to the doctor and he thought everything looked good so he took the plate out of my foot. I kept on working hard that whole summer – I knew what I needed to do to get looked at more (by NFL scouts). I knew I had the strength, but I went in and got extra speed work with the coaches. I ended up getting my forty-time down to a 4.46 electronic time, which was huge. In doing that I accomplished a ninety-percentile in all speed work and all strength work. Only four guys have done that (at OU) and only myself and Quentin Poling (who now plays for the Miami Dolphins) are the only two to be able to do that in like the last ten years. That boosted my mentality going into my senior season knowing I was bigger, faster and stronger.
QUESTION: This set up a historic senior season for you, right?
ANSWER: We knew we had a good team. I felt that I just had to do my part, take care of the football and get first downs. We had a lot of offensive weapons and there were some games where the coaches told me I was going to be the guy. Those are the games you live for. Kent State I think I had over twenty carries, the Buffalo game and of course, this last one (the Frisco Bowl). I just showed up and went to work and ended up getting another thousand-yard season.
A.J. Finished with 1306 rushing yards to lead the entire MAC.
QUESTION: Can you talk about your last game against San Diego State in the Frisco Bowl?
ANSWER: Going into the last game against San Diego State we showed up with the mentality that we wanted to run the football. They had the fourth ranked defense in the country against the run. We knew we could pass on them, but we wanted to prove to people how good our running game was. Malek (Irons), the guy who normally rotates in there for me, was sick that day and couldn’t play. Our third string back had shoulder surgery a couple of weeks ago and our fourth string back tore his MCL during senior night. So it was pretty much me and a couple of freshmen who hadn’t played much, so the coaches told me that as long as I could go they were going to keep me in there. Fortunately I was conditioned enough and healthy enough to go the whole game. My teammates took care of me very well as I didn’t take too many big shots. It led to a big night and a good win.
A.J. was also named the Player of the Game after rushing for 164 yards and catching two passes for 33 yards in a 27-0 win.
QUESTION: How excited were you to get back home and reflect on your accomplishments?
ANSWER: Not much reflecting yet. After the bowl game the team flew straight back to Columbus and I drove back to Covington instead of heading back to Athens. I beat my family home (chuckles). I got back at seven in the morning, which was worth it because I never really got to have a long visit at home in the last five years. It’s always football – I mean you are training in the summer, setting everything up for camp, and then once camp starts you don’t really get to see your family much. Now this week has been really good to come home and see everyone on my side of the family and visit Haley’s family. It’s also nice to see friends I haven’t seen in forever, just chill and recharge the batteries.
QUESTION: What are your future plans?
ANSWER: As of right now I’m going to stay here in the Dayton area, probably stay in a hotel down in Kettering and train with Enhance U. They have teamed up with a nutrition company and Premier Health, who will be doing all of my rehab and massage therapies, stuff like that. Twenty-four hours a day I’ll have access to that. It’s going to be all-day, all-night type of training where I will wake up early in the morning for workouts, eat a proper diet, nap and then train some more. They will have all of my training and meals planned out for me. I’m also working with a marketing team on a brand I’m starting called No Name, along with Beat The Odds. One thing we want to focus on is getting out and reaching to small towns, do some camps and let the kids know that if they work hard they can grow up and beat the odds as well.
QUESTION: Do you have any aspirations of trying to make it in the NFL?
ANSWER: Yes. That’s why I’m doing this whole training process. I have an opportunity to go to a gridiron showcase in Texas. It’s basically a week of padded practices where NFL coaches coach you through the process. Hopefully they can see my love and understanding of the game. My goal is for one team to give me a shot because I know I will stick (make the team) wherever I land. I have faith it will end up just like the college process, which is the coaches falling in love with the way I approach the game and the way I play the game. I wrote it down as soon as I got to college that I would play ten years in the NFL, which is a lot for a running back. But, with the way I train and with the medicines now, I think it will be a good challenge for me to chase that goal.
A.J. wanted to thank those who have supported him in his quest to accomplish his goals.
IN A.J.’S WORDS: Can you put this in the article? I’d like to thank the Covington community for having my back, watching me and congratulating me. That means a lot to me. Even if I have a bad game I have people telling me how proud they are of me and that makes it easier to get up early in the morning and working even harder. Also, I want to thank the Athens community. Seeing the little kids coming to camps and the games, wanting to see me and spend time with me means so much. To all of the coaches I’ve had throughout the years, thank you so much. Starting with Little Buccs, learning how to play the game properly. I was lucky to have good coaches all the way through, pee wee, junior high and high school. Coach Miller and my high school coaches thought me how to play the game the right way and how football is a team sport – you have eleven guys out there at one time. It’s not a me, me , me sport like some people want to make it. Yeah, shout out to them for developing me into the person I am today. Coach Solich and Coach Albin for fine-tuning my athletic ability and running back ability. I couldn’t ask for better coaches who care more about you as a student in the classroom than a number on the scoreboard. They care about their players tremendously and I want to thank them for that.
A.J. OUELLETTE’S COLLEGIATE ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
• His 1306 rushing yards in 2018 is the fourth most in school history.
• His 3829 career rushing yards is third in school history.
• His 719 carries is fifth in school history.
• His 5.32 yards-per-carry is third in school history.
• His 32 rushing touchdowns is third in school history.
• He is only the second back in school history to lead the team in rushing for four years.
• He is one of just four backs in school history to rush for over 1000 yards in two seasons.
• His 4345 career all-purpose yards is third in school history.
• Named the 2018 “MAC Offensive Player of the Year” by the Touchdown Club.
• Named first-team All-MAC in 2018.
• Named “Offensive MVP” in the Frisco Bowl.
• Was a three-year team captain.
• Recorded 1,006 rushing yards a red-shirt junior in 2017.
• Named 2nd-team All-MAC in 2017.
• Named “The Player To Watch” by the Touchdown Club after the 2014 season.