200-yard games don’t come around all that often. You have to do something pretty special to get there, and on Sunday the Miami Dolphins Jay Ajayi did.
Ajayi’s path to the NFL sounds familiar – he was a standout back at Boise State, finding the endzone 55 times in his three years of play there – but if you dig a little deeper you find a story unlike anyone else. RealSport spoke with the London-born Ajayi today to talk about his unlikely journey to becoming the Dolphins’ starting running back.
“I remember growing up and not knowing anything about American Football.” Ajayi said, “I didn’t have a clue what it was until I moved to Texas, I didn’t start playing until 2003.”
The world has changed a lot since Ajayi was a young boy growing up in London. Now there are games in London every year, usually at Wembley but this week taking place at Twickenham, with the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams battling it out at the home of English Rugby.
For Ajayi though, he will be back in action against the Buffalo Bills this weekend, with Miami needing a win against their divisional rival to get their season back on track. 2016 has been difficult with a new head coach and a several injuries, but a win against Pittsburgh on the back of Ajayi’s big day has people talking about the Dolphins once again.
“We had a great week of practice leading up to Sunday and then just getting the whole offensive line back healthy again for the first time. They had a real good confidence level going into the game and I ran hard and was able to have a great performance… We’ve all started to buy in to what [head coach Adam Gase has] been talking about and I think that everyone is really focused on wanting to do their job individually. Right now we just really focus on not looking past any opponents and taking it week by week.”
It’s not just been the offensive line that have helped Ajayi make an impact in the NFL this year. The addition of veteran Arian Foster to the Dolphins locker room as helped as well.
“He’s definitely helped me learn the little nuances of the running game, little tips here and there when he’s around. He’s got a lot of knowledge because he’s played in the NFL so long. He always gives us tips.”
Waving the flag
But for many in the UK, Ajayi isn’t just another player or another potential piece of your fantasy football team; he is a role model and an ambassador – someone carrying the flag of Great Britain in sport that is almost exclusively American.
“I think that being from England, I have a unique story compared to a lot of people in the NFL. It’s great to put the UK on the map as I continue to play well and I hope to continue to help the game grow over there. When I look back at it, I never would have dreamed that I would be in this position that where I am and now hopefully someone can see me over there [in the UK] and say ‘you know what, maybe I can make it’. That’s really why I hope to continue to play well and keep being a good ambassador for the UK.”
When the Dolphins came over to London last season, Ajayi was injured and unable to take the field, but with more and more games coming to the UK and the continual talk of a franchise here, the prospect of a British born American football player getting the opportunity to play at Wembley or Tottenham’s new stadium is pretty big, although being an Arsenal fan Ajayi said he would much rather the games be played at The Emirates.
Maybe one day he will get to play the game he has come to love back on home soil, but for now he will have to make do with the Miami sunshine and 200-yard games.
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