Week 224 (27 January - 2 February)
London-born NFL star Jay Ajayi will take centre stage at Super Bowl LII on Sunday night as the Philadelphia Eagles line up against the New England Patriots in American Football’s showpiece event.
The third year running back rose to prominence last season with a string of eye-catching performances and will now seek to finish the season with a Super Bowl ring, the sport’s most sought-after prize.
“I have had a few challenges throughout my career,” Ajayi said when addressing the media on Wednesday. “But I have learned that it is about staying determined and having that positive mind-set.
“I can only control what I can control. I'm grateful to be on this team. We're now at the Super Bowl with one game left and we plan on finishing it the right way."
Ajayi grew up in London but moved to Maryland in 2000, aged seven, playing both soccer and American Football at high school. After excelling for Boise State University, Ajayi was picked by the Miami Dolphins in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
It was during his second season that Ajayi made his breakthrough, not only as “Britain’s running back”, but as a genuine NFL game changer. He ran for 200-plus yards in three separate games, becoming the fourth player in NFL history to do so. He then finished the year with a call up to the 2016 Pro Bowl, an event reserved for the league’s most elite performers.
Ajayi was traded to the Eagles midway through this season, with his attitude to the adjustment receiving high praise from Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson. He has quickly become the poster boy for NFL in the UK and his appearance at New Era’ flagship store in London during this year’s International Series attracted a huge number of fans. Ajayi is one of the top-five selling jerseys in the UK and recently became the first-ever NFL player to have his own hashtag emoji.
Despite his early success, Ajayi is still considered an underdog - the embodiment of an Eagles team who face the reigning Super Bowl Champions this weekend.
“I have always been doubted and had a chip on my shoulder, so that role is nothing new to me. It is that much sweeter when people count you out (and you prove them wrong).
“Last year was the first time I had been to a Super Bowl. I got fed up, because I could not take the fact that I was watching and not playing. I left the game early and promised myself that I would not go back to the Super Bowl unless I was playing in it.”
Ajayi will not be the first British-born player to play in the Super Bowl. Lawrence Tynes and Osi Umenyiora both won two rings each with the New York Giants, and Graham Gano was kicker for the Carolina Panthers, who came up short against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50. However, experts are predicting Ajayi to have a defining impact, a responsibility that he relishes.
“Talking to my friends in Europe, and my family in London, I tell them it's like playing in the Champions League final or the World Cup final, it's the pinnacle of the sport. It is the pinnacle, a dream come true. For me it's just about finding a way to win, it's about leaving my mark and legacy and being a Super Bowl champion.”
For his inspirational journey to the NFL and determination to achieve his dream, Jay Ajayi is JTA Communicator of the Week.