By Ben Robinson
COVINGTON — It was the week off before the grind of fall camp begins for former Covington High School standout and current Ohio University star running back A.J. Ouellette. The 5-9, 210-pound mountain of muscle uses this time to relax with family and friends while letting his body recover from an off-season of intense training and to be fresh for what her hopes will be a historic season for the Bobcats.
“It’s great to be home, spend time with my family and just relax,” Ouellette said. “But at the same time, I’m ready to get back (to Ohio University) and get rollin’ again.”
And Ouellette — who always likes talking about his team more than himself — smiles at the lofty team aspirations for what will be his senior season and his third year as a team captain.
“We are striving for a MAC Championship, nothing less,” he said without hesitation and a grin on his face peaking through his beard. “Of course, we are disappointed we weren’t able to finish last year and get to the MAC Championship Game. That’s the goal (a MAC Championship) and we want a New Year’s bowl game where we can play a power-five team.”
And Ouellette knows he will need another big year for the Bobcats to accomplish their goals.
“Absolutely,” agreed Ouellette. “We have a great offensive line with all of the guys back except our center. I have to do my part to help out the offense.”
Which includes modifying his running style at the request of the coaches. That means instead of looking for people to run over, Ouellette will look for green grass.
“The coaches are challenging me to run different – pick the grass instead of people,” he said. “That’s the biggest adjustment I’m working on. The idea is it will be less wear and tear on my body and I’ll be fresher later in the season.”
Choosing to evade defenders instead of attacking them is new to Ouellette as he was programmed to be a banger since he was in high school.
“Trying to run over people, it’s a habit because that’s how I’ve always ran the football,” Ouellette explained. “Hit the hole and go – run over anything in your way. That’s always been engrained in me and it has become my running style. I’ll still have that same mentality, but I’ll be more selective when trying to run over people. Basically, I’m working on running smarter.”
It’s apparent Ouellette is a more mature football player than he was when he entered the Ohio University program as a freshman walk-on in the fall of 2014. But, he still has the same chip on his shoulder he had when he came out of high school without a single scholarship offer.
“I still feel I have plenty to prove,” he said. “I’m still fueled by the aggravation and disappointment I felt every time I replied to a college letter and then didn’t hear anything back. I guess I’ll never get over it.”
At the time, only Ohio University and Eastern Michigan had shown any interest of any kind, but it was the Bobcat coaching staff that made Ouellette decide to take his talents to Athens.
“I remember when I went for a visit, the coaches (at OU) made me feel wanted,” Ouellette reflected. “I knew my skill set would give me a chance to see the field rather quickly. I also knew that I had prepared to play Division I college football for six years. I was ready.”
And Ouellette saw the field in his first collegiate game as a freshman. His first collegiate play was on special teams, where he decleated a Kent State player on a kickoff. Then, late in the game he was called into action at running back and led the Bobcats to a thrilling 17-14 win by carrying the ball for 30 of the 48 yards needed to set up the game-winning field goal.
From there, Ouellette was inserted into the starting lineup a couple of weeks later against Idaho and eventually led the Bobcats in rushing as a true freshman with 804 yards.
Ouellette followed up with an impressive sophomore campaign by leading the Bobcats with 687 yards on the ground and was looking for even bigger things the following year as a true junior.
But on his third carry of the opening game of his junior season, Ouellette suffered a foot injury that ended his season and required surgery. This forced him to red shirt and improve on his leadership skills.
“I learned how to be more of a leader,” Ouellette explained of the impact of his injury. “It gave me a chance to help out some of the younger guys and show them what it takes.”
Ouellette’s work ethic has always been off the charts, but he established a new standard in his preparation to get back onto the field as a red shirt junior.
“You know, I’ve basically worked hard since about sixth or seventh grade, so hard work is nothing new,” explained Ouellette. “Most of it is staying mentally tough, pushing yourself to go harder when you don’t feel like it. A lot of times the coaches had to hold me back.”
There was no holding Ouellette back from a monster season in 2017 as he led the Bobcats once again in rushing with 1006 yards – all despite wearing a two-pound orthodic plate in his shoe to protect him from further injury to his foot.
“The orthodic plate was more of a nuisance than anything else,” Ouellette said. “It kept my foot from bending, so I basically had to run flat footed. It slowed me down a little, I guess.”
Now, fully healed from his injury, Ouellette feels better than ever. He recently ran a 4.46 electronically timed forty-yard dash. He has also recorded 30 reps on the bench press with 225 pounds, a 37-inch vertical leap, a 4.06 time in the shuttle and a program record for back with a 550-pound squat.
“My goals have always been to outperform what I did last year,” he said.
Should Ouellette and the Bobcats improve on last season’s performance, the former Buccaneer may get a shot at the NFL.
“I hope I get an invite to the NFL Combine,” he continued. “I feel if I get an invite, some team will pick me up. I’m confident in my numbers. But right now I’m focused on this season.”
Until then, Ouellette is enjoying a week off before heading back to Ohio University for his senior season – a season he wants to make the most of.
“Everything I do will be the last time I do it as a college football player – you know, the last first day of fall camp, the last first game of the season – so I want to make the most of it,” Ouellette stressed. “I would love for us to go unbeaten, win a MAC Championship and get to a major bowl game. I’d love so much for this team to be the best team in the history of the program. That would be a fitting way to go out.”