January 9, 2020

Ferguson: The winding road of Ronald Ollie

East Mississippi Community College

1,729 kilometres.

That’s how far East Mississippi Community College is from Toronto’s BMO Field. It’s about a 17-hour drive without stopping for gas or a bite in Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, Toledo or anywhere else in between.

It would take about two weeks to continuously make the walk from Scooba, Mississippi to the big smoke, but the journey to the CFL must feel even longer for new Argos signing Ronald Ollie.

If you’re like me, you don’t need year-round football in its weekly regular season format. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t want football in your life!

So when the CFL ‘off-season’ hits, you might dabble into other forms of football entertainment. For me, this often comes in renewing my annual interest in the CFL combines and draft while catching up on Netflix shows I wanted to watch all season but couldn’t find the right time to dive in.

If you were to binge either HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks: Training camp with the Oakland Raiders’ or Netflix’s ‘Last Chance U’ at any point in the last couple seasons you need no introduction to Ronald Ollie, but for the unacquainted, here’s what you need to know.

» Ollie: ‘Everybody looks at me like the TV star when I’m a football player’
» Argos sign ‘Last Chance U’ star Ronald Ollie
» Who’s a pending free agent in Toronto?
» Toronto’s QB situation still up in the air heading into free agency

New Argonauts signing Ronald Ollie pressures the quarterback while with East Mississippi Community College.

In 2016, we caught a glimpse of a boy attempting to become a man through the prism of football as viewers gained an unprecedented look into Ollie’s junior college experience in Scooba. The soft-spoken defensive tackle struggled through challenges large and small for all to see in high definition, with little to no filter.

From injuries to self-perception issues, homesickness and grades, academic frustrations to forgetting to bring a pencil to class consistently. No matter the topic or focus, Ollie immediately became Last Chance U’s central focus and a fan favourite for his vulnerability.

At one point just minutes into the first episode of Last Chance U, after being introduced to Ollie and his teammates attempting to take the long road to football stardom, Ollie is shown buying headphones instead of a notebook to take to class, the type of decision making that landed the talented man in the defensive middle in the junior college ranks, to begin with.

Ollie’s defensive line coach Davern Williams — a former NFL player himself — described Ollie as, “a character. Ollie will go as far as he lets himself go. You can’t play one good play, one quarter or one game. If you aspire to play in the NFL you have to change the way you play.”

The show then introduces you to Ollie’s upbringing in Wayne County, Mississippi, where he grew up in a trailer in the pine belt of Mississippi. Both Ollie’s parents were killed when he was young and other family raised him.

Football was where Ollie found solace and big schools came calling, however, the grades weren’t there. East Mississippi Community College (EMCC) was where he landed and Head Coach Buddy Stephens described Ollie’s situation as being “equally close to making the big time or never playing again.”

From Scooba, Ollie landed a scholarship at FCS Nicholls State before going undrafted and landing in Oakland with the Raiders for training camp in 2019.

Once again the cameras would follow Ollie as Oakland became the feature of the preeminent off-season football reality show ‘Hard Knocks.’

Again Ollie became the focus, again it took only minutes from the first episode and again the picture painted was harsh.

As Ollie sat in his dorm room with the Hard Knocks cameras, he vented about wanting to leave the last reality show in the past, while talking to another one in the present.

“I don’t know what people think of me. I don’t know what they think, but I really don’t care,” he said. “It’s just frustrating because I know I just want to play football. I want to prove myself. Just let everyone know that it’s for real.”

Shortly afterwards, Ollie removed himself from a drill with Achilles soreness leading Raiders head coach Jon Gruden to proclaim, “You know what? Let’s get some of these [expletive] guys out of here that don’t want to play.”

Ollie was cut. His NFL dream again vanishing in a cloud of TV magic.

Fast forward to early January of 2020, when the Argos announced a three-year deal for Ollie.

The new Argo gets after the quarterback while with EMCC.

Four years after starring in ‘Last Chance U,’ this appears to be his last chance to make it in football, but there is no better place than the CFL to resurrect a career.

If Ollie can stay healthy and make plays, he will finally shake the shadow of reality television cameras and being defined by off-season football entertainment. All of that replaced by in-season production and the possible realization of a lifelong dream to make it in pro football.

Training camp is still four months away, but when you’ve come from Scooba, that wait is nothing compared to the time spent looking for the right pro football opportunity.