Bringing the thunder: Ouellette’s off-season add aims to elevate Roughriders’ running backs

Click to play video: 'Free agent splash Ouellette aiming to bring the thunder for Saskatchewan Roughriders'
Free agent splash Ouellette aiming to bring the thunder for Saskatchewan Roughriders
WATCH: Reaching the 1,000 yard rushing mark last season with the Toronto Argonauts, A.J. Ouellete is now looking to bring the same power and speed to the Saskatchewan Roughriders back field – May 13, 2024

The first time A.J. Ouellette met Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Trevor Harris was before a Week 20 game last season, visiting pre-game while with the Toronto Argonauts.

It was one of the first things said to Ouellette by the CFL veteran which left him a tad bit starstruck.

“It was when the Argos were in Regina last year,” said Ouellette. “He came up to me before the game, he wasn’t playing and he said, ‘Hey man I don’t want to interrupt your pre-game, but you’re my son’s favourite player.'”

“I was like, ‘Woah!’ He walked away and I looked at Andrew [Harris] and I was like, ‘Was that Trevor?'”

That brief meeting sparked a friendship between the pair who are now teammates in Saskatchewan after Ouellette signed a two-year deal to join the Roughriders in the off-season.

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Living only an hour away from each other in their home state of Ohio, the pair hopped in the car together to drive up to Saskatchewan for training camp with the Riders pivot behind the wheel for the entirety of the journey.

“Anything from conspiracy theories, to football, to education and what we think about the schooling system,” said Harris. “We listened to some old-school country, found out we’re both old-school country fans. We talked about Jesus quite a bit, so it was a great drive.”

The trek north of the border included an overnight stop at the home of former Roughriders receiver Jake Wieneke, with the new teammates growing a bit closer each hour that passed.

Click to play video: '‘Ready to rock’: Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp kicks off'
‘Ready to rock’: Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp kicks off

“We got to know each other, that was for sure,” said Ouellette. “Twenty-three hours talking football, talking God, talking family, a little bit of everything. I’m already good friends with Trev, I’ll put him down as a lifelong best friend right now.”

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The Roughriders are hoping that partnership will pay off on the field this season, following Ouellette’s decision to head to Regina in free agency.

Nicknamed ‘Thor’ due to his trademark beard and long, blonde hair, Ouellette broke out last season for 1,009 yards rushing in Toronto with eight rushing touchdowns and another two caught in the air.

While it’s new surroundings for the 28-year-old, he’s been joined on the transition to Saskatchewan alongside new head coach Corey Mace who served as Toronto’s defensive coordinator prior to accepting the Roughriders’ head coaching job.

“Shoot, I seen his helmet pop off and the Thor hair coming out the back,” said Mace. “He’s still rolling, he didn’t care, that’s a penalty we’re going to have to talk about that because that was one of them. But I know that’s not going to slow him down, that’s just the kind of guy he is. So it’s awesome to have him out there.”

Coming out of his first meeting with Mace and his new teammates over the weekend, Ouellette got what he expected out of his new head coach.

“He did not change,” said Ouellette. “It’s exactly who I wanted as my head coach. He’s going to come out here and lead with positive energy, and light a fire under you when you need it.”

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Ouellette is expected to bring an aggressive style of running to the Saskatchewan back field, as evidenced by a recent video on social media which showed the two-time East Division all-star squatting 700 pounds in the gym.

With Jamal Morrow gone, the Roughriders will be leaning on Ouellette and third-year tailback Frankie Hickson to lead the way on the ground in 2024.

“We know we’re a hard working group, a bunch of blue-collar guys who just want to win and get it done any way we can,” said Hickson. “Ultimately, A.J. has only been helping us. Each of us have not necessarily been in this offence before, he’s the only one who really has. So he’s given us tips and tricks, just the little things to be great on the field.”

Saskatchewan struggled to run the ball in 2023, ranking second-last in the CFL with an average of 84.2 yards rushing per game.

As the Roughriders’ season opener in Edmonton approaches with a little over three weeks to go, Ouellette is aiming to be a big part of an elevation of the running game in his first season at Mosaic Stadium.

“I’m coming out here proving I can be the guy and be a leader that guys can lean on,” said Ouellette.

Saskatchewan’s first game of the 2024 CFL season will come on June 8 against the Elks, while Ouellette will host his former Toronto teammates on July 4.


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