April 16, 2024

Hall: AJ Ouellette’s feeling at home in Green

Christian Bender/CFL.ca

AJ Ouellette knows that anonymity will simply not exist in his new life as a running back for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

He will be recognized on quick trips to the grocery store. He will field football questions on sojourns to the dog park. And he will sign autographs on his way in and out of Mosaic Stadium.

The 28-year-old tailback says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“That’s part of the game,” he says. “Right? That’s what you grow up wanting.”

We caught up with Ouellette to chat football, family and frivolity as the Covington, OH product readies himself for his first season in Rider green.

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Q: How much love are you feeling these days from Rider Nation?

A: Oh, it’s unbelievable, the number of messages I got the week that I announced I was going there. And then I did my autograph signing at The Rider Store. They said it was the largest showing that they had for single autograph signing at the store. It was just a couple of hours and non-stop autographs. So, it was definitely fun.

Q: Why choose Saskatchewan as a destination in free agency?

A: Once I heard that Coach (Corey) Mace was taking the head coaching job in Saskatchewan, I knew I wanted to at least hear what they had to offer. That’s who I want as a head coach. So, I was just happy that coach Mace and the general manager wanted me on the team, and it worked out for us.

Q: Saskatchewan is known for its passionate — and some may say intense — fanbase. What do you think of the pressure that comes with playing in Regina?

A: You want people to love the game and that being what they look forward to. You need the pressure to make sure you’re working hard. You’re going to be the most loved person when you’re winning, but you also don’t want to walk down the street if you’re losing. That’s just extra motivation to do what you need to do to get to the wins.

Q: What’s the story behind your alter ego, Thor?

A: Thor came about with everybody in the Argos locker room having a superhero. We have a Wolverine action figure and some of the guys are currently Batman, Spider-Man all that stuff. With the blonde hair bleach last year, everyone started calling me Thor. To be honest, that’s a great superhero to try to be. A damn demigod. Can’t beat that.

Ouellette introduced the Thor hammer on Labour Day in Hamilton, where he helped hand the Ticats a lopsided loss (Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca)

Q: What about the hammer?

A: My nephew bought me a Thor hammer when he was up here for a game. I took it to the stadium. It was hanging out for a couple games. And then I realized I should bring it to one of the away games and it happened to be Hamilton. Nothing better than bringing the hammer to the Hammer and getting to use it.

Q: How did that go?

A: It was supposed to be on the sideline for me to use maybe for TSN if we scored a touchdown — just on the sideline. But there was some trash talking going on during that game. And it got to the point at the end of the game where I’m like, “Enough is enough. We’re going to drop the hammer here in the end zone after we score.” It happened to be a freaking halfback pass that I got to throw for the win. I ran to the sideline and got the hammer.

Q: Did you get a penalty on the play?

A: Yeah, there was definitely a penalty. But that was my only penalty of the season, so I think the coach let that one slide.

Q: What goes into the care and tending of your mullet and beard?

A: It’s a process. I’m used to a shaved head and a buzz cut that I really didn’t have to manage. But the beard started because I was too lazy to shave. And then it started growing decently, so I kept that going. Now I just have to oil it, make sure it’s still in decent shape and that it doesn’t get too long to where I’m getting tackled by it during a game.

As for the hair, I’m still getting fired from basically every beauty salon I go to. They’re telling me, “Oh, you’re using too much of this. You need to use this shampoo and this conditioner.’ Because I was like ‘I’m going to buy three-in-one and that’s going to get the job done.’ So, I’m still wondering how to take care of it.

Q: Tell us about your family. 

A: My parents are Phil and Jody Ouellette. My dad makes chemical mix for welding wires, and he’s done that for years since he got out of high school. And he also does autobody work as a side job. So, he fixes up cars, paints them and all that. My mom had jobs here and there when we were growing up. But for the most part, she was a stay-at-home mom and now she is a stay-at-home grandma taking care of the nephews who are running around and going crazy. I have one sister. She’s an accountant and married with two kids, two boys. And then I have a brother. He’s an electrician. One daughter, two boys. Yeah, we’re a nice, happy, get-along family.

Q: What about your dogs?

A: The dogs are my boys. So that’s what I get to contribute to grandkids are my dogs. I have a seven-year-old husky and then a four-year-old mix. What they told me is that he is half golden retriever, a quarter German shepherd, and a quarter husky. So yeah, they pretty much go everywhere with me.

Coach Corey Mace and the Roughriders passionate fan base were big draws for Ouellette in free agency (Christian Bender/CFL.ca)

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

A: I’m just chilling. Either going for a hike with the dogs or maybe getting the kayaks out and getting on the water, letting the dog swim. If there’s a fun sporting event, I like getting together with some buddies or some family members and watching sports. I have five nieces and nephews, so going to their sporting events keeps me busy.

Q: I understand you’re a tattoo guy. What’s your favourite tattoo that you have so far?

A: I would have to say the Native American skull on the outside of the calf. Because that was my first tattoo, and it turned out really well.

Q: What does it mean and symbolize for you?

A: The way I picture it is no matter how important you get or how much prestige you get in life, you’re going to die. So don’t chase the money. Don’t chase the title. Because no matter what, you’re going to die in the end.

Q: What’s the secret to your success as a running back?

A: First of all, you’ve got to do your best to keep your body strong and healthy. So, me and the weight room are pretty much best friends. That keeps the body lasting for a full season. And then my ability to break down a blitz and be able to protect that quarterback. Because, to be honest, his one season is probably worth more than my whole career. So, my job is to keep him healthy.

Q: Trevor Harris will no doubt be happy to hear that. So, what are your goals for the 2024 season? What will make it a success for you?

A: I want to bring this locker room together. You know, a group of us guys chasing one goal. And we all know how to get to that goal. Let’s bring a community together and make them love football again. And then, of course, let’s have an amazing celebration with the team at the end of the season. Holding up that trophy is the end goal. But during that process, let’s come together as brothers through the process of chasing that goal.

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