Ouelette’s Canadian Football League team wins Grey Cup


COVINGTON — Covington High School and Ohio University graduate A.J. Ouellette, of Covington, recently won the Canadian Football League (CFL) Grey Cup with the Toronto Argonauts on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Ouellette graduated from Covington High School in 2014 and from OU in 2018 before going on to play a short stint for the Cleveland Browns. He made it to final cuts before being released and about two weeks later he was invited by the Toronto Argonauts to go to Toronto to speak with the general manager and coach about signing to the team. He was signed to the team the day after receiving that phone call. Ouellette started with the Argonauts in the middle of their season in 2019 and played four games with the team through the end of the CFL season.

His first, partial, season with the Argonauts gave him his first professional starting position as running back and his first professional touchdown. In 2020, what was supposed to be his second season in the CFL, the season was cancelled due to COVID-19 and the 2021 season was a shortened season for the team as they played on and off through surges of COVID. Finally, in 2022, he played a full season in the CFL as a running back for the Toronto Argonauts.

Ouellette is one of a small percentage of those who have achieved their dream of playing professional football.

“I don’t really notice it (achieving his dream of playing professionally) for myself right now, but I do notice it for the younger kids. It was hard to have that goal, because I remember being told ‘make sure you have a second job in mind’ and that just basically telling someone ‘you better give up now.’ But I was lucky to have a couple of great teachers, great coaches, family and supporters that were like, ‘Yeah, go for it.’ All the way through the ups and downs, they were there. I’m just glad that the kids that are striving to do that have someone that has done it,” said Ouellette.

“I try to make sure he realizes what he’s doing as he’s doing it, because I feel like he’s the type of person that’s always like, ‘What’s the next step? What can I do better? How can I get better? Where can I go?’ I was with his parents on the flight out to Regina, because his team flew family members out and I told him, ‘I hope you realize what you just did. You are a professional all-star now; you’re a CFL East All Star. You just got named that. You’re playing, and now won the most important game, the highest you can reach in the CFL and you just put your family on a private flight to go out and watch you play this game. That’s everything little you could have ever wanted and you did that,’” said Haley Ouellette, A.J.’s wife.

During A.J.’s first full season, from May to November of 2022, he stayed just outside of Toronto in a camper. Ouellette, even with the help of his team and managers, struggled to find a place due to the housing crisis, expensive rent, most places wanting to sign only year-long leases and many renters wanting three months of rent up front. While he was in Toronto looking for a place and practicing with the Argonauts, Haley was working in Arizona as a strength conditioning coach for the Cincinnati Reds. While in Arizona she worked with Camping World in Arizona and in Piqua to purchase camper in Piqua for a trusted friend to then drive up to A.J. in Toronto.

Football in Canada is played slightly differently than it is played in the NFL. In the CFL, there is an extra player on the field, there are three downs instead of four, the fields are slightly bigger with a center line, two 50-yard lines and 20-yard end zones. The goal posts are also located at the start of the end zones rather than the back side of the end zones which allows for teams to score even if a field goal is missed; if the ball lands in the end zone or is not returned after a field goal attempt, the attempting team earns a point.

“Everybody starts 10 yards off the ball, the quarterback will send you and you just get a running start to the line. It was hard to get adjusted but once the ball snapped it’s still football, it’s natural at that point…It’s just a little bit more entertaining because there’s always plays, there’s no fair catching,” said A.J.

Another difference between playing football in U.S. and in Canada is the weather. During the Grey Cup in Regina, Saskatchewan it was -5 degrees Fahrenheit. The CFL teams have multiple ways to stay warm; layers under their uniforms, large heaters at both end zones, helmet heaters for players to use while they are on the sidelines and the Argonauts equipment manager even brought heaters to warm up the metal benches on the sidelines during the Grey Cup.

A.J.’s team, the Toronto Argonauts played the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday, Nov. 20, for the Grey Cup, the CFL’s equivalent of the Superbowl. The Argonauts won by one point, 24-23.

Following the Grey Cup, Haley found a father who had posted in an Argonauts fan page on Facebook about his son’s signed football that had been either lost or stolen at the CFL Eastern Finals. She reached out on behalf of herself and her husband and offered the father, Robbie Hughes, a replacement signed Toronto Argonauts practice ball that had been signed by the team. Haley stated that she knew it would not be the same because Hughes’ son had collected all of the player signatures on his own by going to numerous CFL games, but that she thought it would be a nice gesture from the team and a decent replacement for Huges’ son to remember the season by.

Now that the 2022 CFL season is over and it is the off-season for the Reds, both A.J. and Haley have returned home to Covington and are back to running their athletic/performance training gym, No Name Athletics in Piqua.

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