Tuesday 20 February 2018

Cast-off Ajayi driven to prove critics wrong

London-born Eagles star hoping for Super Bowl redemption after being ditched by the Dolphins

Philadelphia Eagles’ Jay Ajayi got a wake-up call earlier this season when he was cut from the Miami Dolphins. Photo: Getty Images
Philadelphia Eagles’ Jay Ajayi got a wake-up call earlier this season when he was cut from the Miami Dolphins. Photo: Getty Images

Liam Blackburn

Jay Ajayi has spent the majority of this NFL season on an emotional rollercoaster, but he is confident of remaining calm in the Super Bowl spotlight.

The impression of Ajayi in Miami earlier this season was that he was overly emotional, a "hot head" as his then head coach Adam Gase described him shortly after a sideline outburst at Wembley in the city where he was born.

Soon after, the Dolphins traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles. They received just a fourth-round draft pick in return, which spoke volumes of their desire to offload one of their most talented players and a Pro Bowl pick the previous season.

Yet this week, ahead of his Super Bowl appearance with the Eagles, there has been no sulking or pouting.

Ajayi has instead cut a calm, composed figure who appears at ease four months after having his world turned upside down.

"Right now I'm very calm, it's just another week," the 24-year-old said.

Relax

"You will get a little more anxious leading up to game time but to me it hasn't felt too big. I understand we've got one more job to do. My main focus is making sure I know the game-plan and I'm ready to play on Sunday.

"The night before the game I know I'm just going to relax, keep my mind at ease, maybe watch something on Netflix or a movie, go to sleep and not be feeling too anxious or nervous.

"It's just football, I've been doing this my whole life, it's not going to change because it's the Super Bowl and there's lights, cameras."

Perhaps being jettisoned out of Miami was a wake-up call.

Ajayi, who left London for America aged seven, would not offer an opinion on Gase earlier this week but did concede the notion he was a problem in Miami was "disappointing" having been blind-sided by the trade.

"I got up to go to work and found out I was getting traded then found out where I was getting traded to," he explained. "There was a lot of emotion; a lot of stuff happening very quickly."

Ajayi claimed he has forgotten about his time in Miami earlier this season but what was said about him has followed him to his new home.

"When you come into our room, everything that's been said about you is on the wall - good, bad or ugly," Philadelphia running backs coach Duce Staley said.

"There's more bad than good. It's all about what they say about you when you got drafted, when he was at Miami. Every day he walks through the room and reads them. Whoever said it is on the wall. If Adam Gase had a quote, it's up on the wall."

Ajayi's nature may not have been appreciated in Miami but to Staley he is a coach's dream.

"He's very passionate, he's driven," Staley added.

"He understands and loves his job. He knows when he makes a mistake because he comes right to the sideline and corrects it. I love a player like Jay.

"He's going to bring that fight to you, you don't have to worry about bringing it to him."

The chip-on-the-shoulder mentality is still driving Ajayi, just as did when he slipped in the 2015 draft and when he lost his starting gig in Miami.

If his Eagles beat the New England Patriots in Minneapolis at Super Bowl LII in the early hours of Monday morning, the Dolphins' decision to cut ties with their starting running back will have turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

"I'm grateful for how everything worked out," Ajayi added.

"After this week I'll be able to review how everything went down, that's really when I can sit back and go, 'Look, I'm a Super Bowl champion. Thank God'.

"Even though that's not the plan, that's not how we thought it was going to happen, it all worked out for a reason."

  • Super Bowl LII, live, BBC 1 / Sky Sports, 11.30pm tomorrow

Irish Independent

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