July 20, 2023

Hogan: Ouellette Ready for the Ticats

Austin James Ouellette has become a fan favourite in Toronto. If his blue-collar approach to running the football hasn’t already won over Argonaut fans, his thoughts on the rivalry with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats may seal the deal.

“I’ve grown to hate them.”

The Covington, Ohio native had a twinkle in his eye and was smiling as he said it; something that shouldn’t be surprising because he always seems to be having fun when he’s talking about, or playing the sport that he’s excelling in.

He’ll get another chance to show off his skill on Friday night when the Argos travel to Hamilton to take on the Ticats in a game that gives the Boatmen a chance to move six points ahead of their rivals.

Why does Ouellette have such distain for the folks from down the QEW?

“For some reason the players seem like they need to talk when just your play needs to do all the talking,” he told Argonauts.ca. “I’m going to have fun going out there and telling the other guys to shut the hell up; just hit me next play and see what happens.”

Ouellette says he’s not much of a talker on the field as he’s usually trying to catch his breath after a run.

Running the ball is something at which he’s been very successful this year. He’s tied for the CFL lead with Calgary’s Diedrick Mills with a 77.3 yards-per-game average, and also tied with teammate Chad Kelly for the league lead with four rushing touchdowns.

Why is it going so well this year?

“I think just the opportunity,” he said. “I think it showed last year and even two years ago when I got a chance to play, the production that came out of it. Now it’s just being comfortable in the starting role.”

He’s been getting the majority of the carries this season, while Andrew Harris has fit in perfectly as a complementary back; a role reversal from the beginning of last season. The pair, along with contributions from Dan Adeboboye and the quarterbacks, have combined to rush for a league leading 134 yards per game.

It’s something that’s been fun to watch for his teammates, including receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr.

Only Isiah Cage has been with the Argos longer than Gittens and Ouellette (along with Robbie Smith and Shane Richards). The receiver has always known what the running back was capable of doing and is thrilled he’s getting the chance to show his stuff.

“I’m happy for him because he’s such a good dude,” Gittens told Argonauts.ca. “He’s a teammate that you want to have. He won’t talk too much, his talking is how he does on the field. You can’t do anything but follow a guy like that; he’s an amazing teammate, an amazing football player.”

Gittens and his offensive teammates don’t get the chance to see Ouellette in action during a play; they’re either blocking or clearing space for him. When they do get the chance to see him live or on film, they appreciate what the running back brings to the mix.

“It’s a great thing to see,” Gittens said with a huge smile on his face. “Every run he’s giving full effort and it seems like he doesn’t get tired. He’s got a whole lot of people that support him and appreciate him. My dad is one of those guys; after every game the first thing he’s going to say – he doesn’t care about me – is man, 34 is a beast. We all appreciate A.J. a lot.”

The feeling is mutual. Not only about a respect for each other as athletes, but Ouellette loves the fact that his teammates are putting in the same amount of effort that he’s become known for, on both game days and during the week leading up to them.

“We’ve got workers,” said Ouellette. “Chad was here all off-season trying to see everything like the coach sees it. Receivers are not afraid to block, so that’s always good. And our o-line is getting to that mean edge, so that’s always a bonus and is a pleasure to watch the next day in film.”

A group of talented athletes that isn’t afraid of hard work and is well coached. That’s a combination that should work and so far this season has, averaging 34 offensive and 38.8 total points per game.

The offence will have to be executing again on Friday night in what should be a tough road test against a hungry archrival.