FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - “I thought for a long time this made me a bad person. I thought I should hate the person that killed my brother and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Now, here I am, and I have this choice to hate you or not, I choose not to. I don’t hate you Denzel. I hate what you did, most certainly. But I still think your life is as precious as the next person’s.”– Qadree Ollison to Denzel Lewis, the person who murdered his brother.
Falcons running back Oadree Ollison had to deal with the shooting death of his older brother Rome Harris on Oct. 14, 2017.
Above is an excerpt of the letter Ollison wrote to the murderer.
Ollison is from Niagara Falls, N.Y., where is brother was killed. Denzel Lewis pleaded guilty in May to the murder. Security footage showed Lewis shot Harris three times, outside a gas station, according to the Buffalo News. Harris was 35.
Ollison, who was drafted by the Falcons in the fifth round of the NFL draft, believes in the healing power of forgiveness.
“I’m just really strong in my faith,” said Ollison on Saturday after the second practice in the Falcons’ rookie minicamp, which concludes on Sunday with Navy Seals training. “Everybody read what I said (in the letter). I’m just really strong in my faith. Stuff happens. Faith is something that was instilled in me late in my young manhood. Just really being strong in my faith.”
The Falcons were aware of the tough path that Ollison took to the NFL.
“The more you’re around him, the more you are impressed with him,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “He’s got a maturity about him. A confidence about him.”
Ollison is not trying to make any bold statements that could land a rookie in hot water with the veterans.
“There are a lot of experienced backs, a lot of really good backs here,” Ollison said. “Any way I can help the team, that’s what I’m going to do.”
At 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds, Ollison is a big power back in the mold of former Falcons Michael “The Burner” Turner, who played at 5-10 and 244 pounds. Ollison has powerful legs, can run through tackles and has a mean stiff-arm move.
“Definitely, I consider myself a one-cut, downhill runner,” Ollison said. “Somebody that is going to get his pad level (low) and really go North and South.”
Ollison starred at Pittsburgh early in his career as a freshman. He spent his sophomore and junior seasons playing special teams and backing up James Conner, who would go on to play for the Steelers.
Last season, Ollison returned to the starting lineup for the Panthers.
“I think it shows a little bit of my versatility,” Ollison said. “Also, just being patient as well. I played a lot of special teams as well. Just being versatile and not being one-dimensional.”
The Falcons knew Ollison could run, but wanted to see him catch some passes during their rookie minicamp.
“We didn’t see him catch a lot,” Quinn said. “We knew he had really good running skills. That was pretty evident. Then what roles could he have on special teams.”
The Falcons wanted to see Ollison run some pass routes and not just catch a swing or a screen pass out of the backfield.
“As big as he is, he’s got really good feet,” Quinn said.
Ollison, who agreed to terms with the Falcons on May 3, enjoyed his first taste of pro football.
“It’s just the pace,” Ollison said. “Practices are a lot faster. You’ve got a really short time out here. You are not running a whole lot of plays. In college you have like 17 or 18 periods. Out here you might have 11 and 12 and they are moving. They are moving fast. You’ve got to get a lot of work done.”
Ollison likes the pace.
“It’s good that way because you’re conditioning your mind,” he said. “You’re conditioning your body and getting ready.”
The Panthers practice in close proximity to the Steelers.
“I had the luxury of being at Pitt, we share the Steelers’ practice facilities in a sense,” Ollison said. “Their field is right next to ours. I’ve seen the way that they practice. I’ve watched them for the last five years. I’ve got to see how an NFL team ... not every team is the same. But as far as pace, energy and communication, I got to see that for five years.”
Ollison and Conner, who’s a cancer survivor, have remained close. Conner rushed 21 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns when the Steelers pummeled the Falcons 41-17 last season on Oct. 7, 2018.
“Everybody knows that I’m real close with James and that I talk to him pretty much every day,” Ollison said. “He gives me a lot of tips and pointers and helps me out a lot.”
Conner was taken by the Steelers in the third round of the 2017 draft.
“At the end of the day it’s just football really,” Ollison said of the best advice Conner has given him. “Guys are bigger, stronger and faster, but at the same time, you’re good enough to be here or you wouldn’t be here. Also, just be yourself. Don’t be anybody that you’re not. Just be yourself.”
Ollison believes his style will fit just fine in the Falcons’ offense.
“There are only so many ways you can run the ball, so, the runs are similar,” he said. “The difference is that holes close a lot faster at this level. Guys are a lot faster. There are (defensive) linemen out there running 4.4s and so, you’ve got to go.
“It’s kind of difficult because you have to be patient, but still be going like full speed at the same time. Just learning those things and really getting those things down.”
Ollison has persevered through a swirling career at Pittsburgh on and off the field, now, he’s hoping things smooth out with the Falcons.
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