CFL

'I play football, I'm not a TV star': New Argo wants to shake reality show stigma

Before signing with the Toronto Argonauts Monday, Ollie’s second reality show stint put him in football purgatory again. In 2016, his first came on the Netflix documentary series Last Chance U, where he was first introduced as a fan favourite. 

Ronald Ollie's pro-football pursuit moved audiences in a Netflix documentary series

New Toronto Argonauts defensive lineman Ronald Ollie, seen above in a photo from Oakland Raiders' training camp, was unsure if his career would continue after his release, but ultimately landed in the CFL. (Ben Margot/Associated Press)

Ronald Ollie is accustomed to last chances.

It's how the new Toronto Argonaut made his name, after all, as one of the players on the Netflix documentary series Last Chance U.

The series began by exploring the East Mississippi Community College (EMCC) football program and its players on their journey to prove themselves to top-level NCAA schools in pursuit of their NFL dream.

Ollie, a defensive lineman, appeared on the show's inaugural season in 2016 and earned himself a spot at Nicholls State University, a Division 1 FCS school in Louisiana.

Skipped over in the 2019 NFL draft, the 23-year-old signed as an undrafted free agent with the Oakland Raiders in May and suddenly found himself in front of the cameras again on HBO's Hard Knocks, which documented the team's training camp.

Of course, his time on Last Chance U raised questions from new teammates and coaches about the documentary series he was largely considered a star of.

"I felt it wasn't fair," Ollie told CBC Sports on Wednesday of the reality TV star theme in Hard Knocks. He was released by the team in July only a few days into camp. "It was so one-sided, so much was cut out and it made me look like the bad guy. 

"I didn't appreciate it."

An Achilles injury then left him sidelined from Raiders' team drills, which led to the organization's decision on his future. 

"I hadn't seen Ronald do anything," head coach Jon Gruden told reporters at the time. "We're in the business of getting better and Ronald didn't participate much. 

"Unfortunately we chose to go in a different direction."

As did Ollie, who signed with the Argos on Jan. 6.

"I heard I was on the [Toronto Argonauts'] negotiation list through Twitter," said the six-foot-two, 292-pound defensive tackle from Shubuta, Miss. "That's when I talked with John Murphy [Argonauts VP of player personnel] and he told me they were interested. What I liked from our conversations is that we never discussed who I was on TV. I think that's what gets lost when it comes to my skill set. 

"I play football, I'm not a TV star."

A maturation process

Another featured member of the Netflix series was Brittany Wagner, EMCC's academic advisor at the time. 

Wagner's relationship with the players, while providing them with support inside and outside the classroom, stood out for many viewers.

"The fans [of the show] want them to be stuck in that time period," said Wagner, who now owns a public speaking and consulting business with a focus on participation in academics. "Those guys on the show have grown, matured and moved on since then. 

"I could tell with the Raiders that Ollie was frustrated with all the Last Chance U talk."

Including Ollie, Wagner still keeps in constant contact with a majority of the student athletes she's encountered. 

"I talk with Ronald a lot and he wants an opportunity to play football," she said. "He wants to be like everybody else, to be coached and treated fairly. He doesn't want to be different than anybody and he deserves that because he's a mature guy who's done a lot of work on himself.  

"It makes it harder for him when he's competing for a spot I think."

Signed through 2022, Ollie is looking to make Toronto his permanent home for the foreseeable future. 

"I'm not rushing to leave Toronto," said Ollie. "I want to show how explosive and quick I am. I want to show how much of a playmaker I am —  I could ball and I'm going to make a play, it's going to happen. 

"They gave me a chance so I feel like it's on me to give it my all for them."

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