‘The real work begins now’: How rookie Ajou Ajou cracked the Roughriders lineup

Saskatchewan Roughriders

Taylor Shire

Regina Leader-Post

It’s not common for a seventh-round draft pick to crack an active roster, but Saskatchewan Roughriders’ receiver Ajou Ajou has done just that.

After being the 59th overall pick in the 2024 CFL Draft, the 22-year-old came into Roughriders training camp with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, after he was the 11th receiver taken in the draft.

“Of course,” said Ajou. “I was one of the last receivers chosen.

“It kind of brought an edge to me.”

In his pre-season debut, the 6-foot-2, 211-pound Ajou caught four passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. That performance, along with a solid training camp, led to him making the active roster ahead of Saskatchewan’s opening game in Edmonton on Saturday against the Elks (2 p.m., TSN).

“It means a lot,” said Ajou. “It feels great. I am thankful for the opportunity.

“The real work begins now.”

At 22, Ajou is the youngest player on Saskatchewan’s active roster and the second youngest player in the CFL, as he is just three months older than Toronto Argonauts linebacker Daniel Kwamou.

And according to Roughriders’ historian Rob Vanstone, Ajou will become just the seventh player in team history to play a game after being a seventh-round draft pick.

“I feel like I was consistent,” Ajou said about his camp performance. “I was in the playbook day and night — like for real, for real.

“Just showing that I’m versatile … (and) coachable; all the things that make a great player a great player.”

However, the road to becoming a professional wasn’t always a straight line for Ajou.

He was born in Calgary, grew up in Brooks, Alta. and eventually moved to Edmonton to play high school football.

Then in Grade 11, he moved to Florida to attend Clearwater Academy International in the hopes of getting more exposure to NCAA schools.

He eventually committed to Clemson University and went on to play 22 games for the Tigers before transferring to South Florida, where he played just one game before suffering a season-ending injury.

Last year, he suited up for Garden City Community College.

Now, he’s a professional.

“He came in here highly touted and he just put his head down and worked,” said Riders’ head coach Corey Mace. “He came in just kind of closed his mouth and put his head down and did the dirty work, and those are all the things we like.

“You see all the flashes of what led him to getting to Clemson … If he continues to go in that route, it’s maybe going to be a hell of a steal.”

In fact, Mace had a conversation with Ajou on the eve of rookie camp laying out what he needs to do to make the team.

“I said this is the things you’ve got to do to prove that you’re ready for this and he’s exceeded the expectations from that manner, said Mace. “We’ve asked him to move around positions, he’s been prepared for that. Every rookie is going to have a little bit of blip as far as mental errors but he gets those corrected.

“He does everything … You want him to go in there and block, he’s willing to do that.

“Kudos to the kid for putting the priorities as a priority and it’s led him here.”

For Ajou, that conversation helped dial him in.

“Basically, he just told me all eyes are on you,” said Ajou. “So just go out there and ball.

“Show that you can block. Show that you can catch. Just show that you are who you say you are, and you’ll be good.”

Along with support from Mace and the fellow coaches, Ajou said he’s gotten guidance from his fellow receivers along with many other veterans on the team in terms of learning what it takes to be a professional.

“I kind of just like to take traits from everybody,” said Ajou. “I can’t single out an individual.

“All the guys who have been there, done that, I just ask them what’s your routine look like and take a little bit from them and try to add it into my routine.”

And that routine includes focusing on what’s ahead — not behind.

“As long as I just stack days — don’t count them, just make them count — just be great where my feet are, water the grass around me, I think the sky is the limit,” said Ajou. “It’s just going to have to be day-by-day.

“I don’t want to get anxious about the future; I’ve just got to say present.”