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Ronald Ollie’s ride from ‘Last Chance U’ to the NFL Draft, as told by him and Miss Brittany

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Let’s talk to key figures from the Netflix show.

Original image: Brittany Wagner.

Ronald Ollie, the East Mississippi Community College defensive lineman, and Brittany Wagner, the Mississippi junior college’s academic advisor, were the stars of Last Chance U’s first season.

Ollie was the show’s comic relief and, in some ways, its heart. He exemplified the JUCO experience — the consistent grind to stay engaged with schoolwork, fend off homesickness in a tiny town, and get a chance to play football at a higher level. Wagner was the person every JUCO needs: always around for support, but consistently pushing players to make their grades.

Their back-and-forth was the most widely beloved arc of the season. It ended with Ollie, in early 2016, accepting a Division I offer to play at FCS Nicholls State.

Ollie didn’t get picked in the 2019 NFL Draft. He told me following the draft that he was signing with the Ravens, but this report came out later:

His tryout with the Raiders turned into a contract:

Ollie came back into the national picture this draft cycle.

After a March 21 workout in front of scouts generated social media buzz, Ollie confirmed these numbers that had shown up on Twitter:

  • 6’2, 292 pounds
  • A 4.87-second 40-yard dash
  • A 35-inch vertical leap
  • A 114-inch broad jump
  • 22 bench press reps

Some caveats apply. Pro day numbers cannot be verified the same way as NFL Combine test results. There’s no standardized measurement system. Ollie also told me he ran the three-cone drill, but didn’t have his recorded time handy.

Those numbers, though, are excellent. They would put Ollie five bench reps shy of the average for defensive tackles, but otherwise, they say he’s really fast and explosive for a player his size. They look a good bit like the 2016 combine numbers for Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche, a former five-star recruit who became a first-round pick by the Cardinals.

Ollie went into the draft expecting to get picked, however. Only about three FCS defensive linemen get drafted every year, almost all of them in the fifth round or later.

“I have zero expectations,” he told me the day after his pro day. “I’m looking to be an undrafted guy. That’s what I have my mind set on, being an undrafted guy. Just off of being realistic, you know, being real with myself. That’s what I’m looking for.”

I asked Ollie for a self-scouting report, and he offered this:

Explosive playmaker. I would say that, because I still play and fit in the scheme of defenses, and at the same time, I make big plays, like game-changing plays, like I might pick up a fumble and return it for a touchdown, or catch an interception. Defensive linemen don’t do that. Block a field goal and go 84 yards for a touchdown, defensive linemen don’t do that. Regular defensive linemen don’t do that.

I still rush the passer. I still stop the run. I’m just explosive. First step is quick. No lateral movement.

Here’s that 84-yard TD from 2016, which earned Ollie consideration for the Piesman Trophy:

“I’m just hoping that somebody’ll pick up the phone and make a call,” he said.

Someone has.

That Ollie is even on the fringes of the NFL is a hell of an achievement.

When Ollie was a small child, his father killed his mother and then himself. Relatives raised him. A friend from Wayne County in Mississippi, where Ollie grew up, described it on the show as a difficult place from which to “make it.”

As Ollie wrapped up high school, he hoped to play in the SEC. But he didn’t get Division I offers, and he wound up choosing between a handful of junior colleges.

He gets tired of telling the story: He was sitting in his car outside his high school library on National Signing Day in 2014. He had scholarship offers from three Mississippi JUCOs in front of him: EMCC, Copiah-Lincoln, and Mississippi Gulf Coast.

He had no strong opinion, as none was what he really wanted. He “kind of scrambled ‘em up,” he said, and picked one from the front seat: EMCC’s.

His freshman year, the year before Netflix showed up in Scooba, Wagner worried Ollie wouldn’t make it through the curriculum.

“I was really questioning, ‘Is this a DI player?,’” Wagner said. “‘Is he even gonna be close to qualifying for Division I? Does he care enough to put forth the effort? Is he mature enough to handle the pressure?’”

In 2015, Season 1 of the show, Ollie sometimes struggled in school. But by then, Wagner knew he could make his grades if he put his mind to it. The problem was a concussion that limited Ollie’s playing time and potential to get high-major offers.

He got a few FCS offers, including one from Southeast Missouri State. The show chronicled Ollie texting a coach there that he wasn’t interested, at which point Wagner said she “freaked out on him.” Wagner eventually learned Ollie didn’t want to fly to his official visit, having never flown on a plane before. He eventually got over it and made the trip, but he decided to sign with Nicholls State, historically a better program than SEMO.

For a while at Nicholls, he was unhappy that he’d been featured on Last Chance U. He thought the show accurately depicted life at EMCC, but he also thought Nicholls’ coaching staff treated him differently because of his Netflix fame. Ollie and his coaches have since ironed that out, he said, and his view of the show has changed.

“It impacted a lot of people, and I helped a lot of people and [was] an inspiration to so many people. And I’m just thankful for that,” he said.

After 2017, his second year at Nicholls, he wanted to transfer to an FBS program, still seeking the offers he wanted out of high school and EMCC. But none came, so he played his third and final year at Nicholls. He had 13.5 tackles for loss, including five sacks.

Now, Ollie, the player, is part of a small group of Last Chance U players to join an NFL organization.

The first was John Franklin, who started as a QB at Florida State, went to EMCC, then played various skill positions at Auburn and FAU. Franklin signed a deal with the Bears in 2018.

Linebacker Dakota Allen, who played at Texas Tech both before and after his EMCC stint, got drafted by the Rams in the seventh round in 2019. He’ll sign at some point.

Other EMCC alums from before the Netflix show (which filmed on campus during the 2015 and ‘16 seasons) have gotten NFL looks. Ex-Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly is the most recent.

As Ollie tries to make the league, he’s also planning to close out one other bit of business from the show.

He’s a few credit hours shy of graduating from Nicholls. He was on track to graduate this year, but he left school after Nicholls’ FCS playoff appearance — following the fall 2018 semester — to start training ahead of the draft.

Wagner left EMCC in 2017 and now lives in Birmingham, where she has a consulting and public speaking business.

“I will be that nag in his ear,” she said. “Get the degree, get the degree, get the degree.”

There was a time when Ollie was in danger of not getting a degree and miles away from any kind of NFL career. Now, he has a chance to wind up with both.

“He’s been through so much in his lifetime, but specifically in the last three, four years, he’s so much farther along than a lot of guys his age in his majority level, what he’s gone through, and knowing who he is,” Wagner said. “He has really found himself in the past few years, and he’s not gonna make the mistakes that other rookies make, because he’s already made ‘em. He’s already made’ em, and he’s already learned from ‘em.”

If you missed Ollie between the show and now, you weren’t alone.

In 2018, on Valentine’s Day, Wagner adopted a dog. Her daughter, Kennedy, missed Ollie. Wagner called Ollie to ask if the family could name their dog after him.

Ronald Ollie happily approved.

Brittany Wagner