INSIDE OUT

first_imgA.J. Ouellette’s rise from walk-on to one of the MAC’s top threats Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment. Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on August 31, 2016 at 8:07 pm Contact Matthew: mguti100@syr.edu | @MatthewGut21center_img A.J. Ouellette was Ohio’s fifth-string running back on the bus to Kent State. The freshman walk-on was there to only play special teams in the team’s 2014 season opener.But three Ohio running backs fumbled a combined four times in the second half, blowing a seven-point halftime lead. Each was taken out. Then the fourth-string back got injured. Ouellette was the only option left.With the game tied at 14, Ohio had the ball in its own territory with a few minutes on the clock. Ouellette, in his first career drive, rushed six times, helping Ohio set up a game-winning field goal as time expired.Just four weeks earlier, the 5-foot-10, 203-pound Ouellette wasn’t even if sure if he’d be on the team. It took him all of 16 days into training camp to make the roster and earn a scholarship. The junior hasn’t stopped since, emerging as one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the Mid-American Conference. Once irrelevant, overlooked and battered by Division I schools, Ouellette is now the go-to option for the run-heavy Bobcats offense poised for its eighth-straight year of bowl eligibility.“Once he took the reins, he never let go,” said Dak Notestine, Ohio’s director of strength and conditioning. “We live and die by his sword.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textOuellette has been holding footballs since he was six months old. In the family’s backyard in Covington, Ohio, about 80 miles north of Cincinnati, Ouellette and his father would set up mock defenders made out of whatever they could find to jump or knock over, said his mother, Jody.That helped lay the framework for a brute running back. One who rushed for 785 yards as a freshman, the second-highest total for a rookie in Bobcats program history. One who once scored a touchdown in high school with a broken collarbone. One who led Covington (Ohio) High School to four straight league championships.Still, he didn’t draw a single D-I football offer.,The recruiting interest came and then vanished. Purdue, Akron, Marshall, North Carolina State and Miami (Ohio) each showed interest, but backed off. Ouellette submitted over 100 letters, filled out dozens of online recruiting questionnaires and sent game tape to D-I programs across the country. Save for a few Division II and Division III roster spots, he attracted no real interest. Too small, he heard.Ouellette jotted down the name of each school that overlooked him, using it as fuel. A coach at Akron quipped, “We have a lot of A.J.’s,” to Dave Miller, Ouellette’s high school coach.Ouellette added the Zips to the list.In a game against Akron midway through his freshman year of college, he ran for 74 yards, leading the Bobcats to a 23-20 win.“You just have to smile, keep moving on,” he said.Miller let schools know that Ouellette was the best player he’s coached in over 20 years. Tramain Hall, a former New Orleans Saint and Tennessee Titan who works with Ouellette at a fitness facility in Ohio, said Ouellette is capable of playing in the NFL. Hall, who’s trained Division I and NFL athletes including Houston Texans wide receiver Braxton Miller, describes Ouellette as “hungry.”“He’s from a small town, but this guy makes big time plays,” Hall said.“Everybody kept saying, ‘I can’t believe how good he is,’ but nobody offered him,” Jody Ouellette said.,In December of Ouellette’s senior year, Ohio’s offensive coordinator Tim Albin saw film of Ouellette and knew he could play Division I. But Ohio had already promised commitments to other running backs in the class, so all Albin could do was keep Ouellette on his radar. When National Signing Day passed and Albin found that Ouellette still hadn’t committed, Albin offered him preferred walk-on status.“A.J.’s going to come in and he’s going to play on special teams,” Albin told Ohio head coach Frank Solich. “I didn’t know he’d play (running back) the first game of the season,” Albin later said.Nobody did.Known as a student of the game and quiet leader, Ouellette was unanimously named a captain this year. In a mid-season contest at Buffalo last year, Ohio needed somebody to fill in at middle linebacker. Within a week, Ouellette had learned the intricacies of the defense. For two weeks, he played both ways. He recorded tackles, made catches and ran the ball at Buffalo.“If he didn’t step up, we would have been in a world of hurt,” Notestine said.The past few summers, Hall opened his facility early because Ouellette wanted to work out for 90 minutes at 8 a.m. It’s the same at Ohio.“My phone would be blowing up on weekends for extra work he wanted to do,” Notestine said. “The kid just doesn’t rest.”,This offseason, Ouellette dropped two-tenths of a second off of his 40-yard dash time (4.56). He upped his squat from 480 pounds to 510, took his bench press to 415 from 360, improved his shuttle time and added a couple inches to his vertical jump. He wants to average 5 yards per carry this year and lead his team to a MAC championship.From no Division I offers to preferred walk-on. From preferred walk-on to clear-cut starter. From starter to integral force in Ohio’s offensive attack.“I try to let the pads talk,” he said.The pads are talking.Banner photo courtesy of Ohio Athletics Comments This is placeholder text Advertisementlast_img

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