By Mike Meiler
Niagara Gazette — Running back Qadree Ollison, a Niagara Falls native and 2013-14 senior at Canisius High School, has narrowed his list of college suitors to five, according to an email sent out by the school on Monday.
Ollison — ranked as a three-star prospect by most recruiting services — listed Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse and Wisconsin as hits top five schools, without ranking them against each other. He had received 15 scholarship offers prior to Monday, and all but ruled out the University of Buffalo, Connecticut, Temple, Nevada, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Cincinnati and Boston College.
"I visited four of those five places, and (the list is) based on how I felt going there and my relationship with the coaches," Ollison said.
The initial plan was to trim the list to four schools, Ollison said, until Penn State made a relatively late scholarship offer June 18.
"I didn't really expect Penn State to offer, even though I was in contact with them," Ollison said.
The Nittany Lions face postseason sanctions and scholarship reductions through the 2015 season, handed down by the NCAA after the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But first-year head coach Bill O'Brien — the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots — managed to lead the team to an 8-4 record in 2012, even after the player transfers that resulted from the sanctions.
Penn State also boasts a few local ties, as Ollison wrote in a brief explanation attached to the email. Canisius alumnus John Urschel is a senior captain, playing guard, while freshman running back Akeel Lynch played for rival St. Francis.
For Pittsburgh, Ollison cited the school's facilities, which are shared with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Panthers also have a history of producing strong running backs, including a foursome of current NFLers in LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia), Dion Lewis (Philadelphia), LaRod Stephens-Howling (Arizona) and Dion Lewis. He also noted the glut of offensive linemen on the roster, the move to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the coaching staff's ties to Wisconsin, a program with a similar reputation.
New Jersey's Rutgers presents an opportunity to play near New York City, which allows for increased media coverage, Ollison wrote. He also made note of how much the coaching staff has promoted family, as well as the move to the Big Ten.
He cited Syracuse's rich history at running back, in Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown and Heisman winner Ernie Davis. He also pointed to the school's location, being less than three hours from home, as well as the coaching staff's emphasis on "keeping New York's top talent in-state." Like Pittsburgh, the Orange are moving to the ACC.
Finally, he wrote about Wisconsin's academic prestige ("70 of their academic programs are considered in the top 10 nationally"), as well as it's success with a run-first offense. The Badgers have represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl each of the past three seasons and have been home to star collegiate running backs such as Montee Ball, Ron Dayne and John Clay, each with similar size to the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Ollison.
Ollison added that he's still willing to listen to incoming offers, but he'll be turning his focus to the five listed as he attempts to make a decision before his senior season.
Wayne Ollison, Qadree's father, confirmed that the tentative plan is to announce a commitment on Sept. 4, two days before Cansius' first game of the season.
"We're going on an official visit to Pitt on Sept. 1," he said. "Then we'll come home, look at each of the schools and hopefully come to a decision."
Any commitment made in September will be verbal, as recruits cannot sign a National Letter of Intent until February per NCAA rules.Follow Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.