A.J. Ouellette Returns to Peden Stadium< < Back to
Ohio running back A.J. Ouellette has spent the vast majority of spring practices and Fall Camp in a non-contact jersey. But Saturday, for the first time since the fourth snap of last season, he is playing in a real game. One that counts, in Peden Stadium.
This weekend is the first game of the season for most college football teams, but for Ouellette, it is something a little more. He is back in Peden Stadium and ready for the breakout season that was taken away from him last year. Head coach Frank Solich called him “really special” this week. In his first two seasons, Ouellette ran for 1,517 yards and 13 touchdowns. Assuming health, he could have similar numbers this year alone.
At this time last season, Ouellette was heading into his junior year. After starting his first two years, Ouellette was primed for a breakout season. However, things didn’t go as planned. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Ouellette took a handoff from quarterback Greg Windham and ran to the right. Ouellette tried to turn up the field, but couldn’t.
His leg gave out. He was later diagnosed with a tear of the Lisfranc ligament in his foot. Season over.
“They are injuries that unfortunately take a long time to recover from because when the injury occurs in the midfoot area, basically that’s the top of the arch and that’s where a lot of the stress goes on a running athlete,” Dr. Robert Anderson said in an interview with Bill Bradley. “In order to push off or power through the foot, you have to have a stable midfoot.”
Ouellette watched the next week’s game from the sidelines, leaning on crutches. He then had surgery. From there, he committed himself to the rehab process.
“After that week went by, I knew I was done,” Ouellette said. “So after that, I committed myself to the athletic training room and told myself if you attack athletic training, like you do the weight room or on the field, you’ll come back even better.”
Ouellette spent about three or four months riding around on a scooter. After he got off the scooter it was time to “attack athletic training,” by doing different stretches and physical therapy exercises to strengthen the ligament.
Despite being upset and having his breakout season cut short, Ouellette did not miss a practice or a game. He was there for his team and the sport he loves.
“Everybody has their thing. Mine is football. Simple as that,” Ouellette said. “Growing up I wasn’t too good in the classroom, I tried. Never had straight A’s, stuff like that, but football always came naturally to me. It’s always a passion I had at a young age and I didn’t want to miss a beat when I couldn’t play.”
He committed himself to coming back better than ever. And he has.
“He’s bigger, faster, stronger than he was prior to the surgery,” said Tim Albin, the Bobcats’ offensive coordinator, and running backs coach. “He’s stronger than he was a year ago, faster than he was a year ago. He’s had no issues with that foot. He’s done an outstanding job, to get back and put himself in this position. He’s definitely going to be a spark to the offense.”
Most of Bobcat Nation will overlook the game against the Hampton Pirates and look at it as the tune up for Purdue. But for Ouellette, he gets his chance to help Ohio get a victory, something he sorely missed a year ago.
“It feels great you don’t know how great game week, game day actually feels until you miss it so having an actual game week, preparing for a victory feels pretty good now,” Ouellette said.
A Lisfranc injury can sometimes have a long recovery. So Ouellette returning to game action less than one year to the day shows his desire to get back on the field.
“He’s coming back from an injury very few players have ever been able to come back from. In fact, it seemed that there was no surgery that seemed to be the answer to that injury,” head coach Frank Solich said.
After such a serious injury, some players would change their style to avoid another major injury. Not Ouellette. He’s keeping his signature style.
“Nope. Still the same, power back with some dance moves I would say,” Ouellette said. “Still love running between the tackles, but if I have to I’ll bounce it, show off a little speed I guess.”
Ouellette wants this year to be his breakout year. He wants to prove that he and fellow running back Dorian Brown can be the best running back duo the Mid-American Conference. Ouellette has a very strong offensive line in front of him, he is completely healthy and has another very good back behind him to run with him. His hopes are high for this season.
He said he thinks Ohio can score 60 points a game.
Ouellette was asked a second time about Ohio achieving that number. He responded, “Yeah we can put it up.”