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Falcons select Canisius High grad Qadree Ollison in fifth round of draft

Qadree Ollison spent the NFL Draft weekend with his family and friends at his home in Niagara Falls. The former Canisius High and University of Pittsburgh football standout knew he would learn his next destination, but he didn't know when or where.

Saturday afternoon, Ollison, a running back, was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the fifth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday, with the 152nd pick.

"Being from Western New York and being a small-city kid, from Niagara Falls and going to the NFL, it means everything," Ollison told the News. "It’s an honor to be a part of the NFL fraternity and I’m excited to get to work."

Ollison is the only player from Western New York to be selected in the seven-round NFL Draft this year. Ollison is also the only player from Pitt to be drafted this year.

“It was amazing,” Ollison said of receiving the call that he was drafted from the Falcons. “Just pure emotion and exhilaration. It was surreal at that moment.”

Ollison leaves Pitt as one of its most accomplished running backs. He is seventh all-time in school history with 2,859 career rushing yards, and finished his college career with 29 touchdowns.

The 6-foot-2-inch, 228-pound back ran for 1,213 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior in 2018 and 1,211 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman in 2015, but played behind James Conner (who is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers) in 2016 and 2017. He graduated in April 2017 and could have transferred to play his final college season, but said he wanted to finish what he started at Pitt.

Ollison also became the highest-drafted player from Canisius. He’s the Crusaders’ all-time leading rusher (4,147 yards) and scored 57 career touchdowns. As a senior in 2013, Ollison ran for 1,465 yards and 22 touchdowns, and helped Canisius win the 2013 Monsignor Martin championship.

“The Falcons are getting a great back and person in Qadree,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi told reporters Saturday in Pittsburgh. “Production-wise, he is one of the best ever to carry the ball at Pitt, with two 1,000-yard seasons. He also got it done for us on special teams.

“Most importantly, Qadree was a vital leader for us, on and off the field.”

Ollison has described himself as a powerful and versatile back who can run and block. His size and athleticism will help the Falcons, who lost Tevin Coleman, their leading rusher in 2018. Coleman ran for 800 yards and four touchdowns on 167 carries, but signed with San Francisco as a free agent. Ito Smith is Atlanta’s top returning rusher, with 315 yards and four touchdowns on 90 carries in 2018.

"I’m compared a lot to bigger backs, like Jordan Howard (of the Philadelphia Eagles), or like James Conner," Ollison said. "I get compared to them a lot, because we’re bigger backs, and downhill, physical runners."

Ollison sprained his right ankle in the first quarter of the Sun Bowl in December, his final game at Pitt. He focused on recovering from the ankle injury and training for the NFL. Yet Ollison didn’t see the time he spent preparing to become an NFL prospect challenging. Instead, he had to be patient as he prepared for a potential future in the NFL.

“It’s a long process," Ollison said. "The combine, the bowl games, the Senior Bowl and what not, and then the wait for the draft. That was the hardest part, just the wait for this point.”

Ollison ran a 4.58 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine in February and should bring depth to the Falcons' backfield.

Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a video posted on the team’s Twitter account that Ollison’s size and speed filled a need for the Falcons in their backfield.

“Hard-nosed, tough, big running back that’s going to add to our four-running back arsenal,” Dimitroff said. “He has the speed to run, the eyes, the football instincts, and he can also catch the ball. 228-plus pounds, and we needed a big back in that group.”

Ollison said he will report to the Falcons rookie minicamp May 9 in Flowery Branch, Ga.

“I’m going to keep working,” Ollison said. “I told my family, ‘This is just the beginning.’ You still have to earn your way and prove you still deserve to be in the league and stay there. You have to earn your keep and earn your spot.”

Forston to Chiefs

Wide receiver Jody Fortson, a product of South Park High and Erie Community College, has signed as an undrafted free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs, ECC announced. The 6-6 Forston transferred from ECC to Valdosta State, where he had 14 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns last season.

Carlson to Browns

Princeton wide receiver Stephen Carlson, a Jamestown graduate and the 2014 Connolly Cup winner, has agreed to terms with the Cleveland Browns. He had 51 catches for 683 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games in 2018, and finished with 16 touchdowns and 1,632 yards on 125 catches in four seasons with the Tigers.

Perseverance pays off as Qadree Ollison prepares for NFL draft

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