When A.J. Ouellette first made himself known, it was unexpected. It was in Ohio's first game of the season in 2014, a 17-14 win at Kent State, and it's doubtful that anyone - perhaps even Ouellette himself - could have seen what was coming.
Ouellette got his first carry in the fourth quarter after the three backs ahead of him - Daz Patterson, Tim Edmond and Papi - were pulled due to fumbling issues and, in White's case, an injury. He only carried the ball six times and 28 yards, but Ouellette's carries killed clock and moved Ohio deep enough into Kent State territory to set-up Josiah Yazdani's game winning field goal.
From that game on, Ouellette was Ohio's leading running back and arguably Ohio's best offensive player. Finishing the year with 785 yards on the ground and 10 total touchdowns, Ouellette gave the Bobcats' offense some stability that it needed. Ohio still rotated out back's - playing lots of people is the Frank Solich way for better or worse - but Ouellette was the guy. And he has a scholarship.
As he heads into his second year, Ouellette will no longer be the guy who sneaks up on people. It was that way at the end of the season too - he was too good to be ignored - but now it's going to come in full force. From day one, teams are going to game plan for Ouellette's blend of power and speed. And with Ohio sill having major question marks at quarterback - another position where Solich and his staff like to play multiple people, for better or worse - and receiver, a good way to shut down Ohio completely is to stop Ouellette and make Derrius Vick and J.D. Sprauge win games with their respective arms.
What helps, though, is that Ouellette fits perfectly into the ethos of Solich's offense. The last great Ohio running back - Beau Blankenship, who spent time in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars - played similarly to how Ouellette plays and that fits what Solich wants out of his running backs. Speed is nice, but Solich loves to run the ball in-between the tackles and play physical, run-heavy football.
This year, the Bobcats' offense should work off Ouellette. Ohio has other backs - Patterson, White, etc. - to give Ouellette some rest and keep him fresh for the fourth quarter. He'll probably play with those other backs too, as Ohio has historically has used some two-back sets to keep defenses guessing. Patterson, in particular, compliments Ouellette well due to his speed.
But Ouellette is going to be the focal point of Ohio's offense. He's going to get the bulk of the carries and be the player Ohio can lean on if/when the quarterback play isn't quite up to par. It's by no means guaranteed that Ouellette builds on his freshman year and affirms all of the talent he first showed a year ago in the fourth quarter at Kent State.