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In His Words: Qadree Ollison
'(My brother) was just like another father figure in my life to honestly keep me away from trouble' 
By Qadree Ollison Aug 03, 2020
Photographs By Atlanta Falcons and Associated Press

My brother's real name is LeRowne Harris.

Me, him, my mom and my older brother, Wayne, all lived in the same house. 3317 9th Street. Unity Park, that's the name of our apartment complex. That was our thing.


That's us. It was two bedrooms. My mom in her room and me and my two brothers all slept in the same bed. Two here, one at the head. Really just getting it out of the mud, for real.

Rome, my brother, has four children, one daughter and three boys. I call them my kids. I tell people I have like four kids. I try to take good care of them as if they're my own. He was a great, caring father.

He was a really, really good football player when he was young. The best kid in town when he was 8 or 9 years old, all the way up until high school.

We played for the same little league team, Cataract Little Loop football. He had all of these records, and when I was coming up playing football it was always like, "Yo, your brother Rome was really like that."

I could never see it. I'm looking at my brother like, no … y'all are definitely gassing this man. My dad would tell me he was everywhere. Everywhere on defense, everywhere on offense. He played running back and linebacker.

He was a really good player. He did his thing, was probably one of the best players out there. He went to Niagara Falls High School and played his freshman year and sophomore year.

My brother actually dropped out of high school in tenth grade and really just started trying to, where we're from, in that environment, trying to survive.

Niagara Falls isn't the worst place to live but it's not the best, either. My brother was the example of being a product of your environment.

I was young and my brother – that was my football role model, as far as who I wanted to be like as a football player. He literally put the football in my hands.

"This is what you're going to do."

He was supposed to, give or take, be "The One." He was better than I was when we were the same age, as far as like little league. He was supposed to be the one that was supposed to go do big things.

My favorite memory was one time he saw me at the corner store where all the drug dealers and shit hangout. I was out there just chilling. I was walking, I wasn't even doing anything, and he made me go home.

"He was supposed to, give or take, be 'The One.' He was better than I was when we were the same age, as far as like little league. He was supposed to be the one that was supposed to go do big things." – Qadree Ollison

I was tight. I was crying and shit. I wanted to hangout. I wanted to be up there with my friends, or whoever I thought were my friends at the time.

He was like, "No, go home." He always kept me away from that. Even though he was doing what he was doing, he always made sure that I didn't go down that path.

My brother was like, "Your path is school and football. That's it." He made sure there wasn't another path.

Whether he was in jail or not, he always made sure there wasn't another path I was going to go down.

That's a memory of mine that I'll always remember, because if I didn't have anybody to tell me, "Yo, go home." There's no telling where my life could've gone.


My pops is the greatest father, but my brother was like another father figure.

Stuff sounds different coming from your parents than it does coming from your sibling.

My dad might tell me some stuff and I'm like OK, that's just my dad being my dad. But my brother, for whatever reason, I just had the upmost respect.

Whatever he said, it was like, alright. Bet.

He is the only person that I let, grown man, 19- or 20-year-old Qadree, call me "Qady."

That's a childish name. My mom sometimes calls me that, and I'm like, "Mom. Don't call me that."

If you know me know me, like from Niagara Falls, everyone calls me "Qad." 

That's what everyone knows me as, but my brother called me "Qady." I used to be like, "Rome, what bruh?"

He was just like another father figure in my life to honestly keep me away from trouble. It's like, "Look, even though you may know or see something that I'm doing, I'm not letting you succumb."

He kept us all the way away from that. My brother, in our family, was the protector and enforcer. Nobody messed with us because of him. That's just how it was. We were always good wherever we went.


My motivation when I was growing up were these two things: I always promised my mother, "Yo, I'm going to buy you a big house." That was my promise to my mom.

My second motivation was getting my brother away from all of this madness. Get my family out of Niagara Falls. That's what drove me 99 percent of the time.

I just felt like the only reason he was doing that was to survive. Being in Niagara Falls, the city sucks you up. I call it "the city where they don't make it out" because there are so many people that are supposed to make it out and supposed to go somewhere, but they don't.

They just become another, "What if?" I didn't want to be that.

It was like, "Yo, I'm going to get my moms a crib and I'm going to get my family and my brother away from all of this. We're going to be good."

My thing was like, OK, to do that, I have to get to the NFL. Football was all I played. I didn't play another sport growing up. It was football 24/7 and that was it.

I try to tell people, I just feel like wherever I am, I'm supposed to be here. At a young age, this was my goal.

My "why" never really changed. I never forgot what my "why" was.

OCTOBER 14, 2017

It was Pitt's homecoming. We were playing NC State. They had a really good team. ACC game, homecoming, big deal.

My dad, little brother, my sister, all of my family came to the game. They were driving down.

I want to say the game was at noon. October 14, 2017. I didn't know this until after, but my brother was actually killed at like 10 that morning.

It's a three-hour drive from Niagara Falls to Pittsburgh. My dad and them found out on the way to the game and they didn't want me to know.

My dad wanted me to focus on the game. I mean, who is going to play a game after they hear that?

It was weird because I'm in the locker room, I'm super hype before the game and I'm listening to music, doing my thing. I didn't know why until after, but my coach came and took my phone from me. I swear.

I'm like, "Dang, why is coach trippin?"

"My brother didn’t take L's. Man, that was the first time I dealt with death that wasn’t from a natural cause." – Qadree Ollison

He played it off. Coach LaSala, Chris LaSala. That's my dawg, that's my man. Out of all the people at Pitt, that's one of the top three most respected in the building. If Coach LaSala comes up to you and asks you to do something, you're going to do it.

It was right before we went out for warm-ups, so I had no idea. I just thought coach was trippin.

We went out, played the game, we lost. I don't even remember the score.

After the game, Coach Narduzzi came and got me and told me my family was here. I was like, my family is here? Why the hell is my family in the locker room?

I didn't think anything of it, because my dad is like that. He would always find his way down to the field. My little brother used to come in the locker room after the games because we would sign him up as a recruit. It was never anything new for my little brother to be there, but my whole family in the locker room?

I didn't even know what was going on. I walked into a little office there and everyone is crying.

My dad's exact words were, "Rome was shot and killed this morning outside of Coastal."

It's a gas station. I used to go there all the time. My immediate reaction was like nah, nah, nah. I just kept saying, "Not my brother. Not MY brother."

My brother was, to me, invincible. Any type of problem, he could handle. Nobody wanted to fight my brother. You know what I'm saying?

My brother didn't take L's. Man, that was the first time I dealt with death that wasn't from a natural cause.

My grandparents had passed away, but I never had somebody that I knew, that was really close to me that had been killed. This was my first time dealing with death where someone took the life of a person that I'd loved.

I just kept saying, "Nah, you can't be talking about Rome." I remember crying and crying and crying.

My family is in Pittsburgh, and being the person that I am, I wanted my dad to be able to go home. His son just died, he had to make arrangements, he needed to go home.

I'm like, y'all go home and I'm going to stay here in Pittsburgh. Coach Narduzzi was like, "Do you want to go home?" But I wanted to stay there.

Everyone at Pitt showed so much love. All the coaches, all my teammates, I'm forever grateful for them. They took care of me that day.

I stayed in Pittsburgh before the funeral. We had a game that next week. I practiced the whole week. The game was on a Saturday and the funeral was that next Thursday.

I went home for the funeral and we had a game the following Saturday. We were playing Duke at Duke. I had to go to the funeral on Thursday and fly out to Raleigh on Friday, the night before the game.


The only reason I remember everything about the funeral is because I wrote about the funeral. A lot of people don't know this about me, but I'm into poetry, writing, creative writing, just putting shit down on paper. Whatever is on my mind.

It started with what I wrote after the funeral, then it turned into something that I started to do more and more. If I'm upset or down about something, I'll write about it. I have a little journal.

I used it for more of a coping mechanism. Being who I am, I didn't want to put any more pressure on anybody. I didn't want to talk about it with my dad.

Not because I couldn't, but because I didn't want to. I didn't want my dad to be worried about me. He's coping with it himself. My mother's coping with it her way. I didn't want to have to add more.

I wanted everyone else to be strong, so I didn't want people to see me vulnerable. How do people not see me vulnerable? I had to be vulnerable with myself.

The first thing I wrote, I was on the plane after the funeral to North Carolina after our game, and I just picked up my phone and wrote a "Letter to Death." Then a wrote another one titled "Walk," where I said, "Come with me on the longest walk of my life."

I don't know if this is just me, but when I go to funerals, it's so crazy the difference being outside of the church and then stepping into the church. When you're outside the church, it's OK. You can breathe, but as soon as you step foot into that church it's like a wave hits you.

I wrote all of this shit down. It's about this walk I went on. The walk was literally from the car to the aisle where the casket is. For whatever reason, that walk feels like it is forever.

It's probably only 10 steps, but this shit felt like an eternity. It was never going to end. I wrote about that. Whenever I found out the news, yeah I cried, but honestly it was a lot of denial.

The next day I woke up and I was fine. I was in denial because I didn't really feel it or want to believe it.

When I went to the funeral, I literally had my dad, who is like 6 feet, 260 pounds and I had my uncle Steve who is 6-foot-4, 330. I had him on one arm and my dad on the other arm and I couldn't walk.

I couldn't walk down the aisle. My legs were completely numb, to the point where they were carrying me. It was crazy.

That's when it hit me. I was overcome by so much emotion. Seeing my mother like that, it was like damn.

That shit is hard to put into words. It's not something you really can explain. The way I explained it in the piece I did was that it literally felt like waves. It's like, BOOM, one wave. BOOM, another wave.

When I say waves, it's like the feeling you get when you get a "We have to talk" text. It's like that over and over. It's like your stomach is just turning and turning and turning.

You're sick to your stomach the entire time. I remember that.

One thing the pastor said that helped me days after, and even today, it's the only part of the funeral service I remember … he said no matter how dark the tunnel is, there is light on the other side. After that, my goal was to find what that light is. Something good has to come from this.


I played in the Duke game after the funeral. It was crazy. I wanted to. My coaches and Pitt put "RH" stickers on our helmets of my brother's initials.

The crazy part is, our fullback got hurt. We didn't have a fullback, so I had to play fullback low key. My buddy Darrin Hall (pictured below), he had a record day. He had the longest rushing touchdown from scrimmage in Pitt history during that game. I was in on that play, I was blocking for him.

He had a great day, like 200 yards rushing. We got the win, they gave me the game ball. I still have that.

Pittsburgh's Jaryd Jones-Smith (55) lifts Darrin Hall (22) following Hall's touchdown against Duke in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. Pittsburgh won 24-17.

That's why I stayed. I didn't go home the week we had practice because whenever I was at football practice, if I had any type of stress or emotion or emotional stress, I can get that out on the football field.

If I would just have been home and around everyone that loved my brother just as much as I do, I feel like it would've taken me into a depressed state. I didn't want to be in that.

I'm not going to lie, I blamed myself a lot. I had this whole plan with my mom and getting my brother out of the hood. I was mad at myself because I was like damn, I was too late.

I didn't do what I needed to do to get to the league quick enough to get my brother away from this. I was a red shirt junior, so I had been in college for four years.

I felt like I failed him in that way. That's how I was thinking the whole time. After all of this, a lot of it was me blaming myself. If I had done this, or I had done that.

I felt like I could've prevented it. I was in a really emotional state for a while.

One thing my dad hated is that I put so much pressure on myself. That's why I was thinking like that. I put so much pressure on myself to do everything right and take care of everybody too. But you can't take care of everybody, you can't save everybody.

You can try. I still try really hard to this day. My dad tells me I can't put that much pressure on myself, but I still do. I feel like it makes me better. If I'm putting more pressure on myself than any coach or anybody can put on me … I have higher expectations for myself than anyone has for me.

After that, it was like no shortcuts. That's what got me to this point. That was the light at the end of the dark ass tunnel. That summer I grinded hard as (expletive).


After my brother passed away, I started getting videos of him that I'd never seen before.

Someone sent me a picture of him and he had on number 30 in a red jersey. I was like, oh shit, 30. I'm going to wear 30 next season.

I texted Coach Narduzzi and told him I wanted to change my number to 30 to honor my brother. He was like, "Yeah, great call. No problem."

I actually didn't tell anyone about it, not even my dad. I wanted it to be a surprise. When camp came around, my dad came to a scrimmage and when he saw me in 30 I told him it was my new number for Rome. He was rocking with it.

That same summer is when I wrote the letter to the guy who was sentenced for killing my brother.

My dad sent out a text to me and all my siblings. He was like, "Hey, the sentencing is on this day if you guys want to write something to say and sent it to me, I will read it in court."

Nobody else wrote anything. The night before the sentencing, I was on the phone with my dad, and I was going back and forth with it because I was in Pittsburgh.

I thought about it for a while and decided to write something. My dad said just to send it to him and he'd read it for me. I wrote it that night before our first day of camp.

This is where people kind of mix it up, and I let people run with it and tell the story they want to tell, but initially, it wasn't a forgiveness letter. In the letter, I never once said I forgive the person.

It was more so like, I don't hate this person.

My uncle asked me a question years before this happened, he asked me if every life was precious? I thought about that shit hard.

This made me think about it because, is a murderer, a rapist or any type of bad person's life still precious? I feel like being a man of faith and believing in God and trusting in God, yes, I do think every life is precious because we were made by God. God created us. That alone makes your life precious.

Everybody gets to choose what they believe is right or wrong. Whether you agree with it or not, you still have that choice.

You have these choices every single day and I think that's such a powerful thing God gives us, the power to choose.

Another thing God teaches is love. Love thy enemies as much as you love your family or loved ones. Spread love and love everyone.

Obviously, there's hate and evil in the world, but you can combat that with love. If you read the letter, it never once said I forgive you. It was never a forgiveness letter.

I never even told anyone that, people just took it as, "Oh he's so strong, he forgave his brother's killer."

Like nah. Never once was there an "I forgive you" in that letter. "I don't hate you," that's what it says.

I remember saying I don't hate you, I hate what you did. I can't hate one of God's children.

If anything, it's like, I'm going to show this person I don't hate them.

I hope they become better from this. I hope they rehabilitate from this and find something that makes them a better person.

When I wrote that, I went to sleep and woke up and felt like that was behind me. He was sentenced, the trial was over. I was so happy.

It was a short thing, he took a plea deal for 25 years. I could focus on football.

It was like I wrote that, it's done. Now I can close the book on that and start this new chapter of my life.


I think I was a good football player before all of that. I was motivated, but this drove my motivation and my desire to succeed through the roof. That's why my senior season, not just football, but senior season of college and everything was so much fun.

Everything was really good and that's because I was so locked into my future. I was happy each game, each practice and it was just mad fun.

We went to the ACC championship and we won the Coastal Division that year. I had the most fun ever playing football.

I felt like when I put on that 30, it gave me superpowers. I was playing out of my mind. It felt so good.

Every single day in practice, when I put that jersey on, I felt like that's how superman feels when he takes his glasses off and goes from Clark Kent to Superman.

Coming from the inner city of a place, when you get drafted, it's like everybody made it. The whole hood just got drafted.

Niagara Falls, I love my city to death. People are always like, "Where would you rather live?" Niagara Falls is home for me. There's no place I'd rather be than home.

That city embraced me. Everybody that was there wanted to see me succeed.

When I got drafted, it was like, yo, everybody just made it. Everybody just got drafted.

It was super crazy. The whole city was just lit.


Any time I get to put on that number, I always feel like he is with me. Every step of the way. I just feel like every touchdown I score, anything I did, it felt like me and him. We were both doing it.

It's like he was there the whole time. Every time I run out of the tunnel, I say the same prayer, I ask him to watch over me and just be with me. Every single time. That's what I do right before kickoff every single time.

"If he was here right now, I’d just be like, 'Bro, we did it.' Something simple. Honestly, that’s probably all that it would be. Everything we said we were going to do, we did it. It would be those three words. – Qadree Ollison

I can only imagine the stuff we'd be doing if he was here. When I do something, it's like, "Yo, I know he would've (expletive) with that."

If he was here right now, I'd just be like, "Bro, we did it." Something simple. Honestly, that's probably all that it would be.

Everything we said we were going to do, we did it. It would be those three words.

Me personally, by myself, I did nothing. Everything I achieved was because of "we" and everyone. He's a huge part of that.

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