For Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi, football won out over soccer
DAVIE, Fla. — In another life, Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi could easily see himself playing a different kind of football.
Born in London to Nigerian parents and raised for his first seven years in Manor House then Essex, Ajayi was a gifted soccer player before his father, Ibi, moved the family to Texas in 2000.
"He was always interested with the possibilities that you can have in America, so he decided to take that jump and move us over," said Ajayi, who still speaks with a hint of a British accent. "I was just going with the flow at the time. I was just excited it was something new."
Not long after arriving in Texas, Ajayi was introduced to the game he once only referred to as American football when a classmate convinced him to come watch a practice. It was there that Ayaji was given his first opportunity to run the football, falling in love with the game almost immediately.
From that point on, Ajayi became a two-sport athlete, balancing both soccer and football until his junior year of high school when he was forced to choose between his two passions.
Would it be a life on the pitch or the gridiron?
The decision certainly wasn’t an easy one. At the time, Ajayi still had ties to professional soccer clubs back in Europe and his father, who also worked as a licensed Fifa agent, was close with the Nigerian national team.
In the end, Ajayi felt that it would be best to remain America and pursue his NFL dream rather than move across the Atlantic for the second time in his life.
"It was a possibility at the time," Ajayi said of his opportunity to play professional soccer. "I was playing soccer, and I was pretty good. My dad had connections and the club team I was playing for also had connections. I had a chance to possibly go professional with that route. It worked out and I’m happy to be here."
With his focus now solely on football, Ajayi rushed for 1,627 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior at Frisco Liberty High School before committing to Boise State. After tearing his ACL as a true freshman in 2011, he would battle back to become the first player in major college football history to rush for more than 1,800 yards and have more than 500 yards receiving in his final season with the Broncos.
Opting to forgo his senior season at Boise State, Ajayi was projected to be a second-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft before concerns over his surgically-repaired right knee caused his stock to plummet, falling all the way to Miami in the fifth round.
Ajayi, however, doesn’t believe his knee to be an issue.
"I’m healthy, I feel great, and I’m just focused on doing whatever I can out here to help this team win a championship," he said.
If he can remain healthy, there’s no doubt that Ajayi has the potential to become one of the biggest steals of this year’s draft. The 21-year-old has all the tools necessary to become a three-down NFL back and his 6-foot-0, 218-pound frame already has Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin salivating.
"He’s a big guy. I like the size number one, I like his production on tape number two. He’s very enthusiastic. He seems very eager out here," Philbin said. "I thought he did some good things with special teams, that’s going to be something that the lead carrier in college, special teams goes a little bit by the wayside, but I think it’s going to be something that will be important for him. I like the way he practices."
As for Ajayi, surrounded by reporters on the final day of Miami’s rookie minicamp, the proficient tailback has no regrets about the path he chose and is happy with where it’s taken him.
"It’s very surreal to be out here," he said. "I’m excited to be out here, just back playing football and playing this game that I love.