Qadree Ollison hopes to follow Pitt script, run his way into NFL
INDIANAPOLIS — Qadree Ollison rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his freshman season at Pitt. It took him three years to reach that milestone again, but it provided a satisfying conclusion to the running back’s college career.
“To come back my senior year and finish it the way I did,” Ollison said, “it’s definitely how you would write it in a book.”
Ollison, though, is saving room for a few extra chapters. He’s at the NFL Combine trying to show he’s the next Pitt running back deserving of a professional career.
In 2018, Ollison became the sixth Pitt running back to record a multiple 1,000-yard season, and he became the first to do it after a two-year gap.
Ollison joined a list headed by Hall of Fame runner Tony Dorsett, a four-time 1,000-yard rusher for the Panthers, and two-time members Curvin Richards, LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis and James Conner.
“It’s an honor and a great accomplishment,” Ollison said. “It’s something I will remember for the rest of my life. I’m proud to be part of that list of great running backs.”
It isn’t lost on Ollison that the five other members of that club played in the NFL with all but Richards achieving success in the league. Ollison, however, is considered a fringe prospect, and the NFL’s scouting report lists him as an undrafted free agent.
A strong showing at the combine and Pitt’s pro day in March could elevate Ollison’s stock. He is listed at 6-foot-1, 228 pounds.
“I know I’m a big back that’s powerful, gets downhill really fast,” Ollison said. “All-around player, can block, ultimate team player, someone who is going to do everything right on and off field field. I’m a physical runner that can catch the ball and make plays.”
He certainly made them as a redshirt freshman in 2015 when he rushed for 1,121 yards and scored 12 touchdowns after replacing Conner, who tore his MCL in the season opener. Ollison was named ACC rookie of the year, but when Conner returned from his knee injury and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Ollison received just 33 carries in ‘16.
“You come off a good freshman season and you feel like everything is going great, you are on top of the world,” Ollison said. “It wasn’t that hard. James came back battling for his life and deserved everything he got. It wasn’t like I was mad or anything. I was more happy for him.”
The next season, with Conner on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster, Ollison’s climb to the top of the depth chart hit a bump. An injury to fullback George Aston led to Ollison switching positions, and he had 90 carries for 398 yards.
Ollison graduated in April 2017, but he never thought about transferring to another program where he could play immediately in his final season.
“I told my dad that I finish everything I start,” Ollison said. “I wanted to finish my career at Pitt. I built something there with those guys, with that locker room and with those coaches. I wanted to finish it there.”
With Pitt recommitting to the run and Ollison back at tailback alongside Darrin Hall, the duo became the first Panthers tandem to record 1,000-yard seasons in the same year. Ollison had a team-high 1,190, and Hall wasn’t far behind with 1,021 yards.
“Those two guys get along better than brothers,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said in November. “I mean, brothers fight a heck of a lot more than those two do.”
Ollison, though, was the only sibling — and only Pitt player regardless of position — invited to the NFL Combine. He was surprised Hall didn’t get a call.
“It’s a friendship, and it’s also competitive,” Ollison said. “When we’re on the field, we’re competing with each other. When we’re off the field, we’re the closest of friends. I still talk to him every day. He’s training really hard for the pro day. He’ll be ready.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .