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Pitt notebook: Patience pays off for Qadree Ollison

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, 9:33 p.m.
Pitt running back Qadree Ollison eludes Georgia Tech defenders on the way to a first-quarter touchdown Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt running back Qadree Ollison eludes Georgia Tech defenders on the way to a first-quarter touchdown Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 at Heinz Field.

Pitt running back Qadree Ollison collides with opponents who often are 75 pounds heavier than him.

But he can say with certainty that running with a football is not the most difficult part of playing college football.

“The hardest thing to be in life is to be patient,” he said.

Ollison should know. He had to wait his turn when he was a student at Canisius High School in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

At Pitt, he had to fight his way up the depth chart in all four of his previous seasons. Even when he ran for 1,121 yards in 2015, he started the season behind three other backs, but became the starter after James Conner was lost to a knee injury.

“You want it to happen right away,” he said. “You have to understand, it’s a process.”

He admitted, “It’s tough when you got friends from back home saying, 'Why aren’t you playing?’ “

Ollison was the top-rated running back prospect in New York in 2013, but he understood the jump from high school to college isn’t easy.

“You might be the guy from your freshman year, as soon as you step on your high school team, and then you get to college, and, dang, you don’t know how to deal with that.

“There aren’t a lot of people who came in from the start and just been the guy. Especially at a school like Pitt who always has really, really good running backs.”

Ollison said the thought of transferring never crossed his mind, even though he was No. 1 on the depth chart in just two seasons — 2015 and this one.

“I’m definitely grateful for the path I was given,” he said. “It allowed me to do a lot of things differently. It made me a really, really smarter player, a better player.

“Everything that’s supposed to happen will happen,” he said. “You really show how good you are, how tough you are, when you stick around and decide to fight through that adversity and not just up and leave. That’s the easy way to deal with it.

“(Transferring) never was a thought. When I committed to Pitt in 2014, I committed to the school for the next four, five years of my life. The thought never crossed my mind whether I was getting the ball 20 times or I was getting the ball zero.

“I just tried to keep my head down and keep pushing and keep working. ”

‘Crazy’ experience

Senior cornerback Phillipie Motley said he lost the football in the sun for a moment before he secured the first interception of his career last week against Georgia Tech. “It was kind of like an out-of-body experience,” he said.

After catching the ball, Motley said he didn’t fully comprehend what was happening until he started running the other way.

“ ‘Oh, wow, I got an interception.’ It was crazy.”

Motley pointed to three reasons why he won the starting job at cornerback in his final season.

“Getting my fundamentals right every single day and being more consistent,” he said.

And the most important one: “I’m not losing time being injured.”

Teammates and coaches have suggested Motley might be the fastest player on the team, a distinction he doesn’t dispute.

“Some people will say otherwise, but for sure,” he said, smiling.

If not Motley, then who?

“No one,” he said. “Me.”

One that got away

Quarterback Kenny Pickett will play against North Carolina for the first time Saturday, a reunion of sorts with Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora, who spent a lot of time trying to recruit him.

In the end, Narduzzi’s choice of Shawn Watson to replace Matt Canada as offensive coordinator sold Pickett on Pitt.

“The coaching staff here and coach Narduzzi,” he said, when asked why he chose Pitt. “I put full trust in him to go out and get the right guy in coach Watson. He did that.”

Pickett said he has “ton of respect for North Carolina’s coaching staff,” and he said Narduzzi and Fedora are, actually, a lot alike.

“They’re both fiery guys. I’d say they are similar,” he said. “They have a lot of passion and a lot of love for their team.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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