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January 8, 2020

Ollie: ‘Everybody looks at me like the TV star when I’m a football player’

East Mississippi Community College

Back in December, Ronald Ollie’s Twitter account started to explode with notifications.

He was being tagged in tweets after the CFL released 10 negotiation list players for each team. Ollie’s name was on the Toronto Argonauts’ list.

It was at that moment that the 23-year-old decided to send an email to the Argonauts, and more specifically, John Murphy, the team’s vice president of player personnel. If this was the team that held his rights, maybe they would bring him north of the border to continue playing football.

“He wanted to know, besides the TV, my football,” said Ollie over the phone on Tuesday from Mississippi, explaining the conversation he had with Murphy.

“Everybody looks at me like the TV star when I’m a football player.”

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Ollie, pictured as a member of the Lions in 2015, is now a Toronto Argonaut (East Mississippi Community College)

Ollie became a household name following the release of the Netflix documentary Last Chance U in 2016. The first season followed the lives of the football team at East Mississippi Community College as they embarked on their ‘last chance’ for a football career. Ollie was one of the subjects in the docuseries and quickly became a fan-favourite.

He learned that fame came with an adjustment period.

“At first it was kind of uncomfortable because it was new to me,” he said. “A lot of stuff rubbed me the wrong way. But I took it for what it was, though and I got used to it over time. It was just like, ‘Oh, OK, now I realize who I am and the platform that I was given.’”

As we saw in the series, Ollie learned a lot from his time at EMCC. He worked with Brittany Wagner, who was the school’s academic advisor at the time, as he looked to bring up his grades to get into a Division I school.

“The mental toughness of the business, that’s what I took away from East Mississippi because they treated me, I would say, just like the NFL,” remembered Ollie, when asked about the biggest takeaway from his time at EMCC. “They treated it exactly like that. It was cutthroat, I could say that. You had to be mentally prepared and mentally tough for everything that you were going to be tested with while being there, because you were definitely tested. It was just how you reacted to it and what you took away from it.”

During his sophomore season at East Mississippi in 2015, Ollie was named to the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJA) All-State Second Team after he totalled 30 tackles, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries (for 23 yards and a touchdown), an 18-yard interception return and a pass breakup. As a freshman in 2014 on the Lions’ undefeated (12-0) NJCAA national championship team, he collected 20 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and a pass breakup.

His resume was impressive after his time at EMCC, both on the field and off. That caught the attention of Nicholls State University, which gave him an offer.

“I know what I’m doing. And I know I just make plays, that’s what I told (Murphy). I’m a playmaker. I make plays at the end of the day.”

Ronald Ollie

In 2016, Ollie appeared in 10 games at Nicholls State and was seventh on the team in tackles, finishing with 41. He also collected 6.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks to go along with a pair of pass breakups. He scored a touchdown that season, returning a blocked punt to the end zone. After sitting out of the 2017 campaign because of a transferring issue, Ollie returned in 2018 and made a major impact on the team’s D-line. He played in 12 games and was a part of one of the top defences in the FCS, which ranked second in sacks and third in tackles for a loss. He ended the regular season with a sack in each of the last three games and five sacks in total.

With his college career behind him, next up for Ollie was what he had been working towards for throughout his entire career: the NFL Draft.

When the 2019 NFL Draft came around and names began to be called as teams made their selections, Ollie waited and waited but never heard his. He says going undrafted wasn’t exactly a surprise for him after the hype he brought from the Netflix series. He didn’t think a team would want the distraction.

Undrafted but still willing to work hard to pursue his dream, Ollie wanted to make the most of any opportunity that came his way. He tested well at his Pro Day, reportedly running a 4.87-second 40-yard dash and jumping a 35-inch vertical. Even after suffering a hamstring injury during his testing and limping around the facility, Ollie still finished every drill.

The Raiders saw something in the defensive lineman and just about a week after his Pro Day, he was headed to Oakland with a contract in hand.

Ollie signed a deal with the Argos on Monday (East Mississippi Community College)

His hamstring injury accompanied him to training camp and it soon found company. This time it was his hip flexor. During the team’s break after rookie camp and before returning for training camp, Ollie found he had yet another injury.

“I didn’t know what’s going on with my foot,” he remembered. “So, I get to the Radiers’ facility and after practice one day I told the trainers, ‘listen, something is wrong with my foot.’’

He ended up being diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinopathy in the same foot. There were days he couldn’t get out of bed or stand up straight because of the pain.

That’s when the Raiders decided to move in a different direction. Ollie was cut in July. He thought his career might have been over.

“I definitely felt like it could have been over,” he said. “There were moments where I thought it was over. But I just said, I ain’t come this far to just be this far.’ That’s what I kept telling myself, ‘I didn’t come this far just to be this far.'”

And now things are far from over for Ollie. He’s a member of the Double Blue, as he hopes to add to a pass rush in Toronto that tallied just 35 total sacks in 2019.

He’ll arrive in Toronto in April, a city he’s never been to before but is very excited to experience, as he gets set to head to camp with the Argos. Ollie didn’t know much about the CFL at the time of putting pen to paper – or the differences between the Canadian game and the one he was used to playing – but he was willing to learn.

That willingness to learn, as everyone saw documented on ‘Last Chance U’, along with his football resume, impressed Murphy and the Argos enough to give him a shot.

“I’m a hard worker. I’m smart,” said Ollie, who is headed to Houston this week to begin his preparation for the upcoming season.

“I know what I’m doing. And I know I just make plays, that’s what I told (Murphy). I’m a playmaker. I make plays at the end of the day.”