|A.J. was a standout at Ohio University.
August 8, 2019 - CLEVELAND, OHIO
A.J. Ouellette gets it. He got it when he was breaking all of the records at Covington High School and he got it when he came out of nowhere as a walk-on to become a Bobcat legend at Ohio University.
And he still gets it as an undrafted rookie for the Cleveland Browns.
What A.J. gets is how to conduct himself as a well rounded football player and individual.
A.J. Ouellette is the total package - humble, committed, generous, competitive, driven and extremely mentally tough - and he’s been that way since he was knee high to a grasshopper.
Taking a reflection back in time, A.J. and his teammates had just finished their junior high football season in 2009. It was a cold, rainy night in early to mid November and Ouellette was spotted running sprints in the middle school parking lot with a handful of his buddies. When asked what the heck they were doing running in the pouring down rain Ouellette answered, “We’re getting ready for high school football”.
Fast forward a bit to Ouellette’s sophomore season of high school where he was in his second season as a starter - a rarety for Covington football. It was the second game of the season and Ouellette was primed for a huge year after fully committing himself to the game through an off-season of training at Enhance U. A.J. took a handoff and broke through the line of scrimmage, only to find a linebacker standing in his way. The then Buccaneer sophomore lowered his shoulder and ran the defender over. Unfortunately, Ouellette got up with his left arm dangling to the side. He stayed in the game and on the very next play ran over a defender to get into the end zone.
A few moments later it was determined that A.J. had broken his collar bone - and injury that ultimately required surgery and a steel plate inserted into his shoulder. Yes, the scar is still with him to this day, but the toughness he displayed was a sign of things to come.
A.J. used the injury as motivation and punished his body through intense training at Enhance U over the course of his junior and senior seasons.
The results were unbelievable as Ouellette shattered nearly every rushing and scoring record in the history of Covington football. He also set records in the weight room which will likely never be broken - including a 425-pound bench prior to his senior year and a 460-pound bench as the conclusion of his senior year.
And through it all A.J. was modest and generous to everyone - especially the youngsters who looked up to him. Regularly he’d give rides to many freshmen and junior high kids who were looking for a way to get to practice on time.
He’d also stand on the sidelines of pee-wee football games and encourage the little kids who one day he hoped would fill his shoes at the high school level.
“If there's a kid who had a reason to have a big head, it would be him,” said A.J.’s high school coach Dave Miller. “Yet, he's so humble - a team-first guy. He cares so much for his teammates, his buddies, his community. Here's a kid who offers rides to freshman, eighth graders, seventh graders - goes down and works with the little kids. He's too good to be true."
As committed and celebrated as he was coming out of high school, Ouellette didn’t receive a single scholarship offer from a Division I program - forcing him to walk-on at Ohio University.
"I don't get it," Miller said at the time. "He's a coach’s dream and I communicated that to every college coach I talked too. I've been around kids who played Division I college football, some who are now in the NFL, and A.J. is the best football player I've ever coached, bar none."
Ohio, in a sense, hit the jackpot as Ouellette quickly became the starter and ultimately became the most beloved player in the history of the program as evident by a recent poll conducted by the university.
And through it all he remained humble - consistently making himself available for autographs to youngsters and giving his time to teammates who needed some assistance in learning what it takes to be successful.
When his collegiate career was over, Ouellette trained like a mad man hoping to impress NFL scouts.
The results were there in his Pro Day as he put up numbers that ranked among the best players at his position who were eligible for the draft.
He started things off by bench pressing 225 pounds 32 times, which would have been good for second for running backs at the combine. He then recorded 36.5 inches in the vertical, which would have been good for sixth among running backs at the combine. To top it off, Ouellette had two runs in the forty-yard dash where he ran a 4.52 and a 4.48, which would have been good for 5th and 10th among backs at the combine.
Ouellette followed that up with a time of 4.0 in the shuttle and a 6.8 time in the L-Cone.
Yet, when the NFL draft came and went, Ouellette’s name was never called and he wasn’t signed immediately thereafter to a free-agent contract. It wasn’t until May 13th that Ouellette was picked up by the New Orleans Saints - an opportunity that last a few weeks until he was released in favor of a veteran running back out of Baltimore.
Two tryouts with Kansas City and Green Bay came and went before the Cleveland Browns picked him up on July 28th.
The conventional wisdom was that Cleveland brought Ouellette in to be a body, since three other backs were on the mend nursing injuries.
“The Browns added Ouellette because they have a number of inactive running backs currently,” said a source close to the Browns. “Any time a team goes a couple days with players missing time at the position you are often likely to see some roster shuffling. Duke Johnson missed Saturday’s practice with a hamstring injury and the team has not activated Kareem Hunt or Trayone Gray from the non-football injury list so far in training camp.”
That was a few days into Ouellette’s experience in Cleveland, but now he remains ten days in and after two of the backs have returned.
And in the process A.J. has impressed sources who follow the Browns closely.
“I believe the rookie (Ouellette) deserves a shot,” said a source. “With a new coach, Ouellette should not be overlooked in camp, and he should be the other running back (with Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson and Kareem Hunt) to make this roster.”
But A.J. isn’t getting caught up into things he can’t control.
Instead, he’s focused on doing what has gotten him to this point.
“I just got to prove myself,” Ouellette said. “I’m a grinder, one day at a time. What’s in front of me is what I’m going to attack. I know that whatever happens, God has a plan.”
And like he did when he was in Covington and Athens, Ouellette takes time for those who look up to him.
That’s evident by the fact that he signs every autograph request by little kids after practice and the fact that he jumps into the stands into the waiting arms of fans when the opportunity presents itself.
And he still remains humble as he simply hands the ball to the coaches after each one of his touchdowns in practice.
It’s obvious that A.J. gets it.
Hopefully the decision makers for the Cleveland Browns get it too and put A.J. Ouellette on the 53-man roster.