FRISCO, Texas - There has been plenty said about Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin and the emotional and scary scene that unfolded on Monday night in the first quarter of the Bills and Cincinnati Bengals contest. Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field, and thus required CPR in order to restart his heart to be taken to the hospital.
For everyone watching the events play out in real time, it was sobering, heartbreaking, and difficult to understand why something so awful could happen to such a caring 24-year-old man. But for all of the commentary, as well as thoughts and prayers, Cowboys' running back Qadree Ollison on Wednesday shared who Hamlin is as a person.
Ollison, a fifth-round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons in 2019 was selected by now Cowboys' defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Ollison played in 19 games with 158 yards and five touchdowns before signing with the Cowboys' practice squad this offseason.
More importantly, Ollison was teammates and friends with Hamlin during their time together at the University of Pittsburgh. When asked what he would say to his friend in need if the opportunity presented itself, Ollison said he had reached out to Hamlin following the tragedy on Monday night.
"I texted him and told him I love him," Ollison said. "And that's what I would tell him if I could talk to him right now. I'd let him know I love him, and I can't wait to see him back up, back smiling, being himself.
"But honestly, it's heartbreaking to see someone like that. But I'm also confident in him and I know who he is. I know where he comes from. So, I'm confident that it'll be okay... It was tragic, it was sad to see, but I know my brother."
Ollison acknowledged how difficult it has been for me to see his friend suffer through something that Hamlin did, but also didn't shy away from his optimism that he pulls through. For as hard as the situation has been for those closest, Ollison's hope for his brother's life was palpable.
"It's tough," he said. "You never want to see someone that you're friends with or that you consider a brother go down like that. But I try to stay optimistic. My optimism is high. I know who he is. I know he's going to come out on the other side of this."
The two developed a friendship during their time together at Pitt despite the two-year age difference and opposing sides of the ball. And while the Panthers were not competing at the top end of the sport with both Ollison and Hamlin, they were a part of the building blocks that helped lift the program to an eventual ACC title just last season.
But it didn't matter to Hamlin that Pitt had struggled in the years prior to his arrival, according to Ollison In fact, Hamlin's decision to go to Pitt had very little to do with any football reasons. Despite having the ability to go anywhere in the country due to his talent, Hamlin instead opted to attend Pitt so that he could be near his family and his roots.
"Damar, he's a true Pittsburgh kid," Ollison said. "He could have gone anywhere in the country, but he actually stayed home because he wanted to be close to his family and play for his city… He comes from a family that works hard and supports each other. And he's like a hero for the city in my eyes."
One of those family members is Hamlin's seven-year-old brother, Damir. After seeing how Hamlin interacted with his younger brother, Ollison had a laugh as he called Hamlin the "one of the best big brothers" he's seen. "If you see how his little brother Damir looks up to him and idolizes him, you'd understand," Ollison said.
Then there is Hamlin's toy drive that he started during his rookie season back in 2020. Originally with a goal of $2,500, the GoFundMe page has exploded in the time since Monday night. As of Wednesday, the donations had eclipsed over $6 million including from other NFL players such as Tom Brady and New England Patriots' owner Robert Kraft.
"I think it's amazing," Ollison said of the support Hamlin's toy drive has received. "I think it shows how much people care. It shows how special this sport is, and especially just the world is. There's a lot of love coming from all over the world… I love the love that he's getting and receiving."
The sports world, along with Ollison, have shown just how much they love and care for Hamlin.