It was a pairing that would make either the best or worst sitcom ever — the powerful NFL running back and the blind opera singer.
Of all the interesting, well-known people former Boise State running back Jay Ajayi has met in his rise to a Pro Bowler for the Miami Dolphins, it was Andrea Bocelli that was the most memorable. Ajayi met the Italian tenor at a concert in April in Miami.
“They told him who I was, he felt me and was like ‘you’re a big, muscular football player’ or something like that ... it was really cool to hear him up close,” Ajayi said.
Such meetings have become part of the third-year back’s life as he finished No. 4 in the NFL in rushing last season with 1,272 yards - 1,155 coming in the last 11 games of 2016. But Ajayi, speaking Friday at his first youth football camp at Albertsons Stadium, said his new-found fame doesn’t change much.
“It’s been good, had a great season, I was excited about that, but just want to continue to push forward and do even better,” Ajayi said. “... now it’s just to keep moving.”
Considering he was left home for the Dolphin’s season opener last year and wound up posting three 200-yard games, the 2015 fifth-round pick snuck up on a few teams, no doubt.
But not anymore.
The 6-foot, 229-pound Ajayi had 260 rushing attempts last season, but coach Adam Gase said in May if he stays healthy, could be in line for about 350. Ajayi said he hopes to “showcase some more things out there” in 2017, knowing all the while teams will look to stop him first after Miami was No. 9 in the NFL in rushing and No. 26 in passing last year.
“I don’t think it’s going to be too different from last year, there were moments where we knew they were game-planning against the run, people saw what we were capable of,” Ajayi said.
The fame that comes with his performance — and being ranked by the NFL Network as a top 100 player — gets Ajayi the opportunity to meet the likes of Bocelli and former Arsenal great Thierry Henry, but also one like Friday. About 100 boys and girls between first and eighth grade took part in drills with some help from Ajayi, who also threw passes to attendees working on routes.
“I used to play on this same field, now I’m coaching kids, teaching them skills,” Ajayi said. “It’s kind of great how things have come full circle.”