FRISCO, Texas — A.J. Ouellette stood on the Peden Stadium turf in Athens on Thursday night, looking for anything to do.
He asked me to talk with him for as long as possible — it would mean that he could spend more time on the turf. Thursday marked his last practice ever at Peden, and the last thing he wanted to do was leave.
Even after our 10 minute conversation, which spanned from his future to the DXL Frisco Bowl matchup, he went and ran routes with his best friend, quarterback Nathan Rourke.
DXL Frisco Bowl
When: Dec. 19
Where: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Network: ESPN, 8 p.m. EST
Line: Ohio (-3)
Here is the transcription of our conversation — a pure, candid look of one of the best running backs Ohio’s produced in the Frank Solich era and in general.
Pete Nakos: What have you been up to with finals week?
A.J. Ouellette: I have one final in coaching class. I’m moving out, so that’s been stressful. Getting everything out of the house.
PN: When’s your last night in Athens?
AJ: Friday. Driving to Columbus, soon as we land I’m driving home. It’s bitter sweet, I’m sure I’ll be back here a million times.
PN: Does Nate (Rourke) officially know he’s in the wedding party?
AJ: Yes, everybody does.
PN: How excited are you to play one last bowl game?
AJ: I’m always excited to play a football game. Doesn’t matter when or where, age, anything. A football game is a football game.
PN: These last five, six games have definitely upped any draft stock you’ve had. What do you have to say about that?
AJ: I was running a little different, trying to learn how the coaches wanted me to run earlier in the season. Kind of different than my normal mentality, but finally getting in a groove of it, finally seeing things they are seeing. We’re just clicking at the right time.
PN: Any personal goals you want to accomplish in this final game in the green and white?
AJ: Oh man. They (San Diego State) have a great defense, so personally I want to put up more rushing yards than any back has on them. Offensively, we want to be over 300 yards rushing.
PN: Anything you want to do when in Frisco?
AJ: David (Burroughs) and I are going to go find the best-rated steakhouse and have a little date night. He’s in the wedding too. Just going to hang out and have some fun.
PN: Final thoughts on this last practice?
AJ: I’m trying to stay on this turf as long as possible tonight. Run some routes, kick up some beads and walk off here with a smile.
PN: Do you think you’ll be emotional after the game Wednesday, no matter the outcome?
AJ: I’m not a very emotional guy. I mean I have strong emotions. It’s very important to win this last game. Normally, it’s the one you look back and know it’s your last one in uniform. I’m going to give it all I have and put my body on the line, do everything I can for this team to get the W.
PN: Have you talked with these seniors about the desire to go out with a win?
AJ: The seniors know. I let some of the guys know what it means. They said only one other group has won back-to-back bowl games here. If we can do that, it sets up next year’s team to be the first one ever to win three in a row.
PN: Did you guys meet after the Miami game, players only?
AJ: Yeah, Kent Berger called that one in. I thought it was necessary, I like that. Just let people know. I don’t know what it is in my head, but anything I can win I want to win.
PN: Is it weird knowing that come Wednesday it will be your last game coached by Frank Solich?
AJ: I’ve definitely been lucky to bond with coach the way I have over the years. It’s going to be wild, I know we’re going to stay in touch. I’m probably not going to think about it until I get removed from the players group chats.
PN: What do you say to people who say he’s too old to coach, that his prime’s over, that it’s year 14 here an he hasn’t won a Mid-American Conference Championship?
AJ: I would love for them to come watch a week of practice. Even to sit in on the meetings he’s in.
PN: Is he fun in meetings?
AJ: Just depends on the mood. He always says he’s not a funny guy, but then he comes back with a joke and you’re not expecting it, and it’s always funny.
PN: Is his intensity much higher in meetings than maybe I would see in practice?
AJ: For sure, he’s always given what he thinks is the right thing. No matter if you’re doing the right thing, maybe he thinks a half a step is better for the team, then he’s going to throw that in. He has great knowledge from years of playing the game and coaching. Anything he says, you just have to take in.
PN: Do you think it’s very unique you’ve had a coach like him here?
AJ: I definitely haven’t been to his house before, I’ve been to coach Albin’s a few times. I think I’m lucky that I ended up with him. If you look at a younger guy, they’re trying to be at a place a couple years and then leave. Coach, he found his spot. Any person that lands in Athens, Ohio, they love it. I’m sure they don’t want to leave.
I’m lucky. I love the mentality he’s developed here.
PN: When is the wedding?
AJ: June 29th, this summer. Back in Covington, Ohio, on her (Haley Adams, former Ohio softball player) dad’s farm.
PN: Is that your dream wedding?
AJ: I’ve always wanted to have an outside wedding. She has a softball field right in her back yard, it’s going to be pretty cool.
PN: Any honeymoon plans?
AJ: We’ve had some ideas. We want to take a trip, maybe a week or two and go places around the U.S. She wants to go to a couple work out facilities that are famous.
PN: That’s what she wants to do, right?
AJ: She just got the internship at Ohio State.
PN: What’re you going to do?
AJ: I think I’m going to stay at a hotel, the trainer said that’s the best thing for me. I’m staying in Dayton and going to train there. So we’re going to be kind of far apart, but not far enough that we can’t visit once in a while.
PN: Any final thoughts on this Peden turf?
AJ: Just going to miss it. The bricks, the amazing campus, and then obviously the trees.
PN: The trees?
AJ: You go to other stadiums, and it’s buildings, and buildings and more buildings. So, when you just look out there and you get to look at the open woods, it’s pretty cool.