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Football players share common experiences at Beavers sports dinner

Football players Brett Jones and AJ Ouellette came from completely different backgrounds, but they shared many common experiences in their journey to become professional players.

WEYBURN – Football players Brett Jones and AJ Ouellette came from completely different backgrounds, but they shared many common experiences in their journey to become professional players.

The Weyburn Beavers hosted the players as guest speakers at their sports dinner on Saturday evening at the Weyburn Legion Hall.

Brett Jones shared about coming from Weyburn and playing on peewee and bantam teams here, while AJ Ouellette talked about being the first Division 1 player from his small town in Ohio in 30 or 40 years, and they shared what it took for them to get into the CFL and NFL.

Jones began with the Calgary Stampeders, won a Grey Cup with them and awards as Rookie of the Year and Lineman of the Year before making the jump to the NFL, where he played for seven years with the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings.

Ouellette tried out for some NFL teams, but after being cut, he was called up by the Toronto Argonauts to play football, and he made his mark with that team, including winning the Grey Cup, before joining the Saskatchewan Roughriders with a two-year contract as a running back.

An obstacle both men faced was their size, considered too small to make it in the NFL. Jones related how he had tryouts with three different teams, and the first two teams, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, told him outright he didn’t have the size that would make it in that league.

“I was six-foot-one and three feet wide … I had to prove myself in the CFL. I earned my spot, earned the Rookie of the Year award, and lineman of the year,” he said, noting with these credentials, he made the attempt to get into the NFL as an undrafted free agent.

“As AJ knows, that’s not a great path to take,” he said. “It all goes back to confidence that you learn as a young player, and for me that was from growing up in Weyburn, learning the skills, things I learned from the coaches I had here.”

Ouellette said for him, he developed the mindset at training camp that he enjoyed getting up every morning knowing he gets to play the game of football.

He said camp can be a grind, but it gets easier as he gets more experience, then the coaches ask him how his body is feeling.

“It gets easier when you know what you’re expecting, and know how to take care of yourself,” said Ouellette.

Asked about memorable times aside from winning the Grey Cup, Jones related one experience with the Vikings, when their opening season game was against the Dallas Cowboys, with the game taking place on Sept. 11.

In that year, it was the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and the bus arrived at the stadium in Dallas. He saw Jerry Jones walk into the stadium (“that was pretty cool”), and he saw they were rehearsing for the start of the game with an American flag that literally covered the field. George Bush was on hand to talk about 9/11.

“It was Sunday Night Football, let’s go,” said Jones.

The other memorable event he recalled was being on the team bus with teammate quarterback Kirk Cousins. While riding with him, he got a message that then-President Donald Trump wanted to talk to him about the game.

Cousins called the White House switchboard and was put through to the president, which Cousins had on speaker, and Jones related how Trump spoke exactly like he does at public events.

“Here I was, a guy from Weyburn, riding on a bus and listening to the President talk to Kirk Cousins. Pretty cool. There’s so many great opportunities to meet people,” said Jones.

Ouellette shared some of the story of how he ended up coming to Saskatchewan to play for the Riders, noting he became a free agent after winning the Grey Cup with the Argonauts.

He had an offer from Winnipeg, and Toronto indicated they wanted to keep him as well, but the team he wanted to go play for was the Riders. He had a chat with coach Cody Mace, and said he had a verbal handshake deal with him for a two-year contract.

Later, a representative of Toronto came to take him and his family out for supper, and offered $50,000 more than what the Riders were offering, but he declined.

“I gave my word, I said Cody and I had a handshake, and I’m going to have two amazing years with them,” he said, to applause from the audience. “I hope I can stay here as long as I want.”