There’s Eastern Time. There’s Pacific Time.
And then there’s Jay Time.
At Liberty High School just north of Dallas, you could set a watch to it.
Jay Ajayi’s now-international legend was born at Liberty High, where in the fall of 2010, the hottest fashion accessory was a T-shirt that read “It’s Jay Time” next to image of giant clock.
The time? Kickoff for Redhawks football.
Jay Time is now 1 p.m. local. Ajayi, with back-to-back 200-yard games, has again made it worthwhile for Dolphins’ fans to set an alarm Sunday mornings.
But before he became the first running back since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 to win AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in consecutive weeks, before he was the first FBS player to have 1,800 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season, before he was a finalist for Dallas’ prestigious Landry Award, Ajayi was a scrawny high school freshman with a British accent and amazing feet.
Galen Zimmerman coached Ajayi at Liberty, where the transplant from England played football in the fall, soccer in the winter and ran track in the spring.
And as he’s done on every level since Pee-Wee ball, Ajayi made a fast impression.
Ajayi, always young for his class, made his varsity debut late in his sophomore season. In his first game, Ajayi had over 100 yards on just 10 carries.
“He’s pretty special,” Zimmerman said. “[In high school,] you could see how he’s not just really good, he’s a special kind of good.”
And to think, Ajayi considered giving up the game before his 17th birthday. He was just as good at soccer as football, if not better. But to be great at one, his father Ibi advised Ajayi to drop the other.
Ibi Ajayi, an IT professional born in Nigeria, would know. He moonlights as a soccer agent, and saw a future in that sport for his son. But he didn’t insist that Jay go that route.
“That’s when I kind of knew they were behind me and just see what could happen,” Jay Ajayi said last week. “I didn’t know the NFL was going to be it.”
Nobody did. Not Ibi. Not Jay’s four siblings. And not mom Kemi, a real estate agent who still lives and works in the Dallas area.
“There was a bit of anxiety,” Kemi Ajayi said. “’What if he hurts himself?’ I was on my knees all the time praying.”
Luckily for her eldest son, Jay is built to handle a beating. He hit a growth spurt in high school that brought him to six feet and added some 30 pounds to his slight frame. But that jump came too late for the major Texas colleges to really recruit him.
Ajayi instead landed on the radar of then-Boise State coach Chris Petersen, now at the University of Washington. The Broncos didn’t often offer recruits an early scholarship, but made an exception for Ajayi.
“I think he was motivated when nobody in Texas really recruited him,” Zimmerman said. “A couple of those guys said, ‘I don’t know if he’s big enough.’”
Ajayi was raw, Petersen told the Miami Herald, but that wasn’t surprising, considering his background. He hadn’t played as much football as some of his peers.
But Ajayi had physical gifts that others could only dream of, and the Boise coaching staff believed in his upside.
So he packed up and made a major move for the third time in his young life. Ajayi had already gone from native London to Maryland and then to Texas. What’s another 1,600 miles?
A long way, apparently. Away from home for the first time, Ajayi found trouble as a freshman. He was arrested on charges he stole sweatpants from a Boise, Idaho, Walmart.
Petersen was said to be irate. Ajayi could have been kicked off the team. Instead, he received one last chance. Ajayi made the most of it, finishing his college career in the top 10 in nine of Boise all-time statistics, despite forgoing his senior season.
“He got off to a rough start, but he adjusted,” Petersen said. “Had a knee issue right away as well, and was really proud of how he battled through that, because it was a tough knee issue. Did a great job rehabbing, stayed strong, and has really persevered through a lot of tough times with his knee for sure.”
Zimmerman added: “He’s a good kid. Being young, sometimes you don’t always make the best choices. The thing about it, how do you respond to that adversity? It’s not necessarily if something happens or if you make a bad decision, but it’s how you respond to that. He has done just that.”
As with the Broncos, in his second year with the Dolphins, Ajayi went into a funk after losing the starting running back job to Arian Foster in early September. His attitude was toxic enough for Adam Gase to leave him home for the opener.
Ajayi could have gone into a tailspin. Instead, he refocused and has put together one of the best two-week runs in NFL history.
“We talked about that at the time,” Kemi Ajayi said. “Keep your head down, keep doing what you’re doing, be a team player. In everything you do, you’re never alone. You’re never by yourself.”
Said Peterson: “He’s a guy that still probably has more to him, in terms of development. He plays such a tough position. If he can continue to stay healthy, he’ll continue to improve and do really good things for the Dolphins.”
He does have the support of thousands, if not millions, of Brits pulling for him. Ajayi is one of very few Englishmen in the NFL. During his magical two-week run, he was a regular on UK television.
Despite living in the United States since age 7, Ajayi is a British citizen exclusively. And while he doesn’t yet have any endorsements back home, that will surely change if he continues running over and through teams.
Eventually, Ajayi plans to get an offseason apartment in London and hopes to be an ambassador for the game in his home country.
There are already Ajayi jerseys in circulation around across the pond.
The only thing left: T-shirts.
Even in Greenwich Mean, it’s becoming Ajayi Time.