The Oakland Raiders are officially going to be this year’s subject of HBO’s Hard Knocks. The announcement came this week that Jon Gruden and Co. will grace our living rooms through preseason, starting August 6th. It’s a natural fit, and attention will now turn to who will be the star of the show. The Oakland Raiders have a locker room crammed full of personalities, and all will be vying for attention in front of the cameras. However, one man looks set to capture the hearts of the nation as he strives to make the 53-man roster.
Raiders DT Ronald Ollie is no stranger to the television cameras
As a teenager Ronald Ollie rose to prominence on Netflix’s Last Chance U. For those unfamiliar with the series, it’s a cross between reality television and football, much like Hard Knocks. For it’s first two seasons, the show focused on East Mississippi Community College, a community college with a reputation for taking on students that were failing academically elsewhere.
There can be no doubt that Ollie was failing academically. Despite being an incredible talent on the field, concerns over his grades prevented him from garnering any offers from FBS colleges. The interest was there, but no schools were prepared to take a gamble on the 3-star recruit out of Wayne County High School.
So, Ollie found himself at EMCC, and in the living rooms of thousands of people across the world.
His first appearance on our screens gives an insight on what will make him the star of Hard Knocks. The story of his life growing up, the personality of the man, and his obvious football talent make you want to root for him. With his softly spoken ways, and practice field dancing, he is going to illuminate the show. Then, his back story is going to steal your heart.
Growing up in a trailer in the woods of Mississippi, Ollie didn’t have the ideal start to life. Both his parents died when he was just 5 years old. It was a traumatic start to life and one that left Ollie angry with the world and numb to the possibility that people cared about him. At EMCC, however, he did find someone who cared, and that relationship helped Ollie blossom.
That person was Britanny Wagner
The bond between the two was one of the main components of Last Chance U. It was so much more than just a teacher-student relationship. Wagner was there for Ollie every step of the way, with advice, with guidance, and even with a pencil and paper. She helped Ollie realize his potential off the field, whilst the coaches helped develop it between the white lines.
Between his coaches, Wagner, and himself, Ollie transformed his time at EMCC into a Division 1 football scholarship. The Nicholls State Colonels, of the FCS Southland Conference, took a leap of faith on him. It hasn’t been a journey without it’s ups and downs but then again, Ollie’s journey through life hasn’t been any different. In his first season as a Colonel, he played in 10 games, tallying 18 solo tackles and 2 sacks. He demonstrated his incredible athleticism that will help define him at the next level, on one special teams play in particular:
Happy with the work he’d put in during that season, he demanded a release from Nicholls State in pursuit of the FBS college he felt warranted his talent. No such offer materialized, and after a year out of college football in 2017, Ollie returned to the Colonels.
Ollie’s return paid immediate returns for Nicholls State
Ollie contributed 5 sacks and 20 solo tackles as the Colonels secured their first Southland Conference title since 2005. His performances earned him an All-Southland honorable mention. However, Ollie was still a long way from the dream of playing in the NFL.
It’s been 10 years since a player from Nicholls State has been drafted to the NFL. Lardarius Webb was selected in the 3rd round of the 2009 NFL draft, and no-one since has heard their name called out of Thibodaux, Louisiana. Despite posting a 4.87 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, an incredible time for a man of his stature, the phone never rang for Ollie over the draft weekend.
Hours after the draft, however, it rang more than once. The Baltimore Ravens, the team that Webb had been drafted by back in 2009, rang to offer Ollie a contract. Unfortunately, for him, they pulled the offer. It was to the good fortune of the Oakland Raiders, who called and offered him a spot in their rookie minicamp.
Not for the first time in his life, Ollie turned the opportunity in to something bigger
He impressed the coaches at rookie minicamp with his performance and at the end of the final day, Gruden called him over:
“Do you want to be a Raider?”
Ollie may have made the 90-man roster, but the hard work begins now for Ollie. The final cut down to 53 will take place in front of the Hard Knocks cameras at the end of August. To my mind, he has every chance to still be a Raider at the start of September. The starting defensive tackle positions are locked down by Maurice Hurst and Jonathan Hankins. P.J. Hall was a second-round pick in 2018 and looks set to be the third DT on the team. That leaves a 4-way battle for a possible two roster spots. Ollie will duke it out against Gabe Wright, Eddie Vanderdoes, and Justin Ellis. The latter two are coming off injuries in 2018. Ellis signed a 3-year contract extension in 2018 before getting injured, which would suggest he factors in to the Oakland Raiders’ future plans.
Ollie has shown in his time at Nicholls State that he has the special teams ability to help him stick on the roster. The athletic talent to make the team is there. There can be no doubting the work rate that has got him from the Pine Belt of Mississippi to Oakland. At one point, he weighed in at 350lbs, but after an aggressive training regime at Armed Sports, raiders.com has him listed at a lean 292 pounds. That alone is a testament to the work he has put in to succeed. As his defensive line coach at EMCC, Davern Williams, once said:
“Ollie will go as far as Ollie let himself go”
It looks like Ollie is going to let himself go all the way.