Photo credit: Logan Riely

AJ Ouellette and the Bobcat Backs

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If Ohio football doesn’t have the best running back in the Mid-American Conference in AJ Ouellette, it might just have the best, and deepest, running back group in the conference.

At least that’s what the Bobcats’ running backs coach, Tim Albin, believes.  Albin, who also serves as Ohio’s assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, can’t imagine a group in MAC as deep as the Green and White’s.

Heading into the 2015 season, Ouellette, a sophomore, is without a doubt the Bobcats’ starter. His accomplishments as a walk-on last season helped garner that role, and the stout back made plenty of fans both on the sidelines and in the stands with this bruising style of running. In 10 games he made six starts, scored seven touchdowns and bowled over defenders to gain 785 yards in 160 rushes (a nice 4.9 yards per carry).

Despite in a year’s time going from No. 3 or 4 on the depth chart to No. 1, the sophomore’s personality hasn’t changed a bit.

“He’s not changed one lick,” Albin said.

What has changed is Ouellette’s body and mental preparation.

“I was a little underweight and my body took a pounding,” Ouellette said about the 2014 season. To combat that he put on weight over the offseason to prepare his body for the beating that comes with his between-the-tackles running style.

Mentally, he’s trying to know the game better than anyone else on the field. Last year he admits he played off of his athleticism, but this year he is working towards a more cerebral approach to carrying the rock. That means looking for the right running lanes, always knowing where safeties are and recognizing when a blitz is coming, and where it’s coming from.

“He’s why you’re a coach,” Albin said with smile, “[because] he’s a student of the game.”

Along with high praise from his coach for his studying habits, senior running back Dazmond Patterson beams about Ouellette’s team mentality and abilities. While he’s been a great teammate, even the senior has been able to learn a thing or two from the younger back.

“He’s young, but he knows his game,” Patterson said. “He’s real patient in the hole, and it’s nice to be able to sit back and watch him sometimes. He can do some things that not all of us can do, as we can do some things that he can’t.”

Ouellette, Patterson, Papi White, Dorian Brown, Maleek Irons and Bo Hardy all have something to different to contribute, and the contrast between Ouellette’s rough, punishing running style and Patterson’s speedy, shifty style is just one example of the group’s differences.

Albin and the offensive staff beliefs in the talented and diverse six-man running back stable, and he intends to use all of its members without hesitation. While Oullette is the starter, Ablin’s plan for the 2015 season is to always have a fresh man, or men, in the backfield. In preparation for that, all six backs were given equal reps in offseason camps.

“AJ probably won’t carry 30 times a game with six guys in the room,” Albin said. And to divide the number of carries between six backs, Albin knows there will be some who aren’t happy with the total number of carries they’ll see in 2015. That’s just part of the game, and it’s a good problem for the Bobcats to have.

Knowing that there are five capable ball carriers behind him, Ouellette isn’t resting on his laurels now that he has the starting job.

“I still have to prove myself,” he said. “The other guys are fighting for a spot and I know that.”

Yet, in spite of the competition at the position, there’s still certainly plenty of camaraderie amongst the group.

“In a two back set, [AJ] is somebody that will go to work for me,” Patterson said. “We play for each other and we’re going to go out and block our behind off for each other.”

In light of a recent, tight quarterback competition that eventually saw Derrius Vick get the nod, and with a with a group of young pass catchers on the roster, the Bobcats are fortunate to have their deep, tight-knit core of halfbacks.

Playing behind an experienced offensive line, the ‘Cats could be running wild in 2015.