|Through hard work, A.J. Ouellette turned himself into one of the best football players in Covington history.
AUGUST 24, 2014 - ATHENS
The word spread around town like a wide fire. Social media, email and cell phones were used - word of mouth - you name it, everyone in town learned in a matter of hours that 2014 Covington graduate A.J. Ouellette had received a scholarship after walking on to play football at Ohio University.
"Someone finally got it right," said Ben Wolfe, a longtime supporter of Covington athletics who had personally contacted several colleges (including Ohio State) to inform them of A.J.'s talent. "Nobody deserves this more than A.J."
Wolfe wasn't the only one after colleges to take a look at Ouellette. Covington coach Dave Miller spent the last year telling every college coach who would listen that this kid was special - but to no avail.
And when Miller heard the news of Ouellette finally receiving a scholarship, his eyes watered and his voice cracked.
"He's special," said Miller, searching for the words. "They (Ohio University) are finding out what we already knew. A.J. Ouellette is a very special young man."
He is special in so many ways - on and off the field.
Off the field, he's gentle and genuine, taking time for little kids and helping others in need - even developing a bond with former Buccaneer alumni at the Covington Care Center.
On the field, he's an animal. He put up record numbers at Covington High School with 2533 rushing yards his senior season, 2434 yards his junior season, 5475 career rushing yards and 7498 career all-purpose yards. He also scored 99 career touchdowns, despite missing nearly his entire sophomore season due to a broken collar bone.
He put up record numbers in the weight room, benching 460 pounds two weeks after graduation and running a 4.41 40-yard dash with a tweaked hamstring.
Still, he was forced to walk on at Ohio University as no Division I scholarship offers materialized at the time of his graduation.
"I still don't get it," said Coach Miller. "I remember Marshall saying they had twenty A.J. Ouellettes on their team. I guess we'll find out now."
That's because Ohio University has Marshall on the schedule and Ouellette will be in a green and white uniform wearing number 45. The game is the third game on the Bobcats' schedule on September 13th.
"Before it's all said and done, he's going to make everyone who passed on him regret that decision," Miller said.
One who didn't pass on Ouellette was Frank Solich, the head football coach at Ohio University. Solich couldn't offer Ouellette a scholarship at the time, but did give the Covington grad a legitimate chance to earn one.
And that Ouellette did. He enrolled at Ohio University immediately after graduation in order to be eligible to participate in the summer program.
Once the pads went on in August, it took Ouellette just three weeks to make a huge impression on Coach Solich and the rest of the coaching staff.
"Coach (Tim) Albin called me in after practice and said Coach Solich wanted to see me," Ouellette explained. "At first I was nervous, but then I got excited because Coach Albin had a grin on his face as we started walking to the office."
That's because the news that was about to be delivered to Ouellette was words he's wanted to hear since he was a little kid putting on a uniform for the first time.
"When I walked into the office, Coach Solich told me that I was doing all the right things and that he felt I deserved a scholarship," Ouellette continued. "I signed it on Friday and that feeling was the best feeling ever. I've worked for this my whole life, to play at this level, and to know I'm really wanted here makes me feel really good."
Solich, who has had a history of taking care of players who prove themselves, admitted that many people made a mistake by not going after A.J. Ouellette.
"It's obvious, he's a scholarship guy," Solich told the local media in Athens. "People missed on him, no doubt about it."
And credit goes to Coach Solich and Ohio University for treating A.J. right because he very well could have waited until after Ouellette's freshman year to make an offer - especially considering Ouellette was already on campus and enrolled in classes.
"That just shows Coach Solich is a character guy," said Miller. "Everything happens for a reason and I believe A.J.'s in the right place with good, quality people."
"I'm loving it here," he said. "They are giving me a real chance to show what I can do and how I can help the team. That's all I ever wanted, was a chance."
What Ouellette has had to overcome to get his chance was unfortunate, but he feels it will help him in the long run.
"Nothing has been given to me, but Coach Miller always told us life was like that," he said. "I think I was prepared for this by Coach Miller because he always stressed mental toughness. You need that when you get to this level. Not everything is going to go your way, but you have to keep pushing forward and overcome."
And Ouellette feels many of his former teammates could play at the same level he's at now.
"I think back at all the the guys I played with and I think they could play here too," said A.J. "Sunshine (Justin Williams), Dylan (Owens), Big D (Dalton Bordelon), Big O (Brian Olson), they could have walked on and earned a scholarship too. I also think there are kids still playing at Covington who can someday play Division I college football. It's really about how much you want it and how hard you are willing to work to get there."
A.J. Ouellette wanted it pretty bad - and he worked his butt off to get it.
He finally earned his scholarship.