Print and Go Back Penn State Nittany Lions [Print without images]

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
RB Ollison not just surprising with his size

By Josh Moyer

Pitt assistant Desmond Robinson had visited plenty of high schools and prospects like this before -- the too-good-to-be-true kind.

He arrived on an early April morning in Buffalo, N.Y., an aging industrial town where wing-flipping pubs dot most street corners, to see one such prospect: a 6-foot-1, 225-pound tailback who could allegedly run a flat-4.5. See, it's not uncommon for high school coaches and recruits to fudge those numbers a little. A 6-1, 225-pound recruit might wind up actually being 5-10, 190.

So a tall, bruising, fast tailback who can bench 315 pounds? Sure, and maybe Robinson should check out Sidd Finch on the baseball diamond while he was in town. "C'mon, coach," Canisius coach Rich Robbins remembered him asking. "What are his real dimensions?"

Robbins and Canisius assistant Bryce Hopkins glanced at each other and smiled. It was a common reaction, and they couldn't really blame the Pitt assistant. They didn't really believe the numbers the first time they saw them either.

But when Qadree Ollison's head bobbed past the door and he glanced inside, Robbins turned to the Pitt assistant -- only to see his eyebrows raise, in a familiar mixture of surprise and confusion. And when Ollison, a three-star recruit, walked through that wooden door in mesh shorts and a T-shirt, Robinson's lips parted in shock. There he was, all 6-1 and 225 pounds of him.

"You're one big S.O.B., aren't you?" Robinson said with a laugh. "How would you like to play for Pitt?"

Added Ollison: "It got pretty quiet once I got in there, and my coach had a big smirk on his face. Pitt's coach just told me he thought my coach was yanking his chain."

He wasn't. But Ollison was used to that reaction; he just smiled right back and thanked the coach for the offer. On a recent Monday, Ollison smiled again when a reporter commented on his size.

"I get that a lot," he said matter-of-factly.

Ollison is a unique recruit from a unique town. FBS prospects in Buffalo are about as plentiful as vegan bakeries. That's beginning to change some, but Ollison's size and ability has still managed to catch the city -- and, by extension, much of the college football world -- by surprise.

He rushed for 1,876 yards last season as the team's workhorse and averaged nearly eight yards a carry. In one rivalry game, shortly after Superstorm Sandy pushed through, the Crusaders played St. Joseph's on a field that Robbins said felt like "an ice cube covered in Vaseline." The quarterback couldn't grip the ball, so they turned to Ollison -- who finished with 344 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 39 carries. Seventy-six percent of the snaps that game went to Ollison.

Still, no offers came during the season. But afterward? After they watched that film -- his blend of size and speed, his hands (he lined up at wide receiver as a sophomore) and his versatility -- the scholarships began to pour in. Buffalo and Nevada extended the first offers, but big ones followed.

Boston College, Cincinnati, Iowa, Maryland, Rutgers, Pitt, Wisconsin. All in all, Ollison now has 14 offers and hopes to commit somewhere by early September. His top five includes Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse and Wisconsin.

"He's that good," Robbins said, pointing out he's still just 16 years old. "And, let me tell you, he plays better when he gets hit. He gets angry, and he turns it on in the third and fourth quarter.

"We operate out of the shotgun, and he actually calls the audibles from the backfield. Our quarterback last season lacked experience, and Q would call the audibles and even tell me what he saw from the film. And [Ollison was] right most of the time."

Ollison sat inside an open room, overlooking the basketball court at the private Jesuit high school on a recent Monday. The room was about a football field's length from the site where President William McKinley was assassinated 112 years ago, but Ollison didn't want to focus on history here. His eye was toward the future.

He nearly eclipsed 2,000 yards last season -- but he was just 205 pounds as a junior. He's 20 pounds heavier now, and he's working on making a national splash as a senior. He rolls out of bed every morning, chooses the top card from a nearby deck of a playing cards and does a certain number of push-ups or other exercises based on what he picks. (Face cards are worth 10, aces just one.)

He says he runs four miles in the morning and the another four in the evening. He's working with a personal trainer, lifts weights inside the basement of his high school -- and he's traded in those trademark buffalo wings for baked fish. His Rushel Shell-like size isn't so much a reflection of natural gifts as it is a product of an unbridled work ethic.

"Guess it's good I wore this shirt today," Ollison said with a laugh, pointing out the brightly-colored words, "Work Hard," scrawled on his dark gray T-shirt. "I try to work when everybody's sleeping because my dad once told me, when you're playing video games, someone else is running a mile. And I have to be better."