HAMILTON, CANADA – When the weight room was built at Covington High School in 2005 there was a large mural painted on the back wall that read HARD WORK IS ALWAYS REWARDED – which was spearheaded by Covington’s head football coach at the time, the late, great Kevin Finfrock.
A.J. Ouellette spent hours upon hours in that weight room as he developed through high school and that message has proven to be impactful as Ouellette is being rewarded greatly for his work ethic and commitment to maximizing every ounce of his potential.
Working extremely hard has been the culture in Covington over the years of success and A.J. took that to a different level while growing up, which was due to what was ingrained in him by his parents, Phil and Jody Ouellette, and his high school football coach, Dave Miller. A.J. always had dreams of reaching the highest level in his favorite sport (football), so he went above and beyond what others were willing to do to accomplish goals. Along the way he overcame so much adversity and doubt from those who said he was too small to get to where he wanted to be in the sport of football.
Now, A.J. Ouellette is a star in the Canadian Football League as a member of the Toronto Argonauts – a team he led to the Grey Cup Championship a year ago by scoring the only two touchdowns for the Argos in the championship game against Winnipeg.
When he was originally signed by the Argos in 2019 after being shunned by the NFL, he wasn’t the starter until midway through the 2022 season when Canadian legend Andrew Harris – a very close friend of Ouellette’s – suffered an unfortunate injury. The Argos were 5-7 at the time and A.J. took advantage of the opportunity and became a star and a leader of the team.
Since then, the Argos have compiled a 13-2 record with one of the defeats coming in the final regular season game in 2022 where many of the starters – including Ouellette – never played because Toronto had already secured the best record in the Eastern Division.
On Friday the Argos, who are the defending champions in the CFL, went into Hamilton with a 4-0 record to face their long-time rivals, the Tiger-Cats. The stadium was sold out and the Hamilton fans were very supportive of their team, which led to a large amount of heckling to Ouellette during warmups and throughout the game.
Fans held up signs focused on Ouellette – words that are inappropriate to repeat, but were very funny.
While warming up, A.J. heard the heckling and saw some of the signs, which put a huge grin on his face and made him laugh. He loved it because it is similar to being a heel in big-time wrestling.
“This is great,” said Ouellette as he was walking off the field after warmups while looking up into the crowd as they heckled him. “I love this environment.”
In Toronto, A.J. is a fan favorite, but being the focal point of heckling from an opposing team is a thrill because it shows just how popular and well known he is now in the CFL.
“I called him a scumbag hillbilly because of his hair and that beard,,” said a Tiger-Cat fan, who was leaning over the rail. “But I wish he played for us (Hamilton). This is a hard working city and he would fit in very well here. I made this sign and held it up because I was hoping he would see me. I know what I wrote (on the sign) isn’t nice, but I just wanted him to see me.”
There were Argos fans scattered throughout the stadium and many were wearing Ouellette’s number 34 jersey. Plus, many fans shook A.J.’s dad’s hand (Phil Ouellette) before and after the game and explained how great of a person and player A.J. is.
It was obvious throughout the game that Hamilton was focused on stopping the run. It led to a big game for quarterback Chad Kelly, who threw for 306 yards and two TDs by completing 20 of 27 passes. The Argos built a 20-0 lead, but Hamilton battled back to cut the deficit to 23-15 in the fourth quarter.
This is when A.J. Ouellette took over as he broke loose on a 25-yard run to set up a touchdown to secure the game. Prior to that, Ouellette powered his way to a 36-yard run by carrying several defenders along the way to set up a field goal late in the third quarter.
Ouellette finished with 84 rushing yards on 10 carries and 12 more yards on two receptions in a game where the Tiger-Cat defense was focused on shutting him down.
Overall, Ouellette leads the CFL (a passing league) with 78.6 rushing yards per-game. He is second in the CFL with 4 rushing touchdowns as well. He has compiled 393 rushing yards on 69 carries for an average of 5.7 yards-per-carry in five games.
After the game Ouellette hunted down his former Ohio University teammate Casey Sayles, who plays on the defensive line for the Tiger-Cats. The two former Bobcats talked for a significant amount of time to where they were the last two players to walk off the field. Still, the Argo fans waited for Ouellette and leaned over the rail to shake his hand as he walked off the field.
A.J. is a star and his hard work is being rewarded.