INDIANAPOLIS — One question Qadree Ollison won’t have to answer when he meets with teams this week at the NFL scouting combine is whether he is a team player.
The Niagara Falls native epitomized it over the last four years at the University of Pittsburgh.
Ollison, who starred at Canisius High School, burst onto the college scene by rushing for 1,121 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman for Pitt in 2015.
He got on the field that year because Pitt star James Conner sat out due to injury and a battle with cancer.
Conner came back in 2016, which sent Ollison to the bench as a little-used backup. Then in 2017, Pitt relied more on the pass, and Ollison found himself in a complementary role behind fellow junior Darrin Hall.
Ollison managed just 398 rushing yards. He blocked. He played on four special-teams units. He never complained.
“It was a little bit difficult,” Ollison said Thursday during his media session at the Indianapolis Convention Center. “You come off a good freshman season. You feel like everything’s going great. You’re on top of the world. But it wasn’t that hard. James came back from battling for his life and he deserved everything he got. It wasn’t like I was mad. I was more happy for him than anything.”
“Then things happened later that were out of my control,” Ollison said. “Our fullback got hurt. Tight ends got hurt. So I was asked to play a different role and just be a team player. That’s how I’ve always been, I’ve always been a team player.”
Ollison’s perseverance paid off. He re-established himself at the start of last season and produced a great senior year, rushing for 1,213 yards and 11 touchdowns and earning second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors.
“To be able to come back my senior year and finish the way I did is I guess how you would write it in a book,” Ollison said.
Ollison is eager to get started on his next chapter. He’s projected as a late-rounds draft prospect.
“I tell people this is something honestly I’ve been kind of working for my entire life, not just the last couple years,” Ollison said of the Combine. “You dream of this as a kid. You grow up watching it as a kid. It’s really surreal to be here embracing every moment of it.”
At 6 feet, 228 pounds, Ollison is a big back with power. His running style is similar to Conner, who was taken in the third round in 2017 by Pittsburgh. However, Conner was more dominant when he was at his best for Pitt, producing a 1700-yard, 26-TD season in 2014.
Ollison hopes to demonstrate his explosiveness in running drills in Indianapolis.
“I weighed in at 228 pounds, and a lot of people compare me to James,” Ollison said. “So definitely going out and proving I’m fast and can run is important. I’ve showed it on tape.”
Ollison ended his Pitt career in style. In his last home game, he rushed for 235 yards in a win over Virginia Tech. That included a 97-yard TD run that featured a “beast-mode” style stiff-arm of Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley at midfield.
“Me and Darrin were talking about before it happened,” Ollison said. “The ball was on the 3-yard line. He cramped up, so he wasn’t going in. I was like, ‘Bro, what if I go for 97?' . . . That was my last play at Heinz Field. That’s definitely a play I’ll remember forever.”
Ollison graduated with a degree in communications in April 2017. He could have transferred to try to guarantee himself more playing time. He never considered it.
“No, I told my dad I finish everything I start,” Ollison said. “I wanted to finish my career at Pitt. I built something there with those guys and those coaches.”
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi was moved to tears when talking at the end of the season about Ollison’s loyalty and his performance in the home finale.
“I told our kids afterward, you watch Qadree Ollison up on that ladder singing that fight song, and it's hard to believe it'll be the last time he'll get to stand up on that ladder … That’s emotional.”
Ollison’s last game at Canisius was big, too. He ran for 240 yards and five TDs in a win over St. Joe’s at then-Ralph Wilson Stadium. He rushed for 4,117 yards and 57 TDs in his Crusaders career.
“I talked to coach (Rich) Robbins the other day,” Ollison said of the Canisius coach. “That’s what molded me into the young man I am right now. I tip my cap to Coach Robbins and his staff. They made me a good football player and got me ready for college.”
“I love Buffalo, but any of the 32 teams that pick me I’ll be happy to go to, whether it’s 40 minutes from home or 40 hours from home,” Ollison said.
Story topics: 2019 NFL Draft