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Pierre Strong Jr., Chris Oladokun headline group of SDSU, USD players with new NFL opportunities

Seven local college athletes — five from SDSU, two from USD — will be at NFL rookie minicamps.

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South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong Jr. carries the ball during the Jackrabbits' FCS quarterfinal playoff game Sunday, May 2, 2021 at Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. (Dave Eggen / Inertia Sports Media)
Dave Eggen/Inertia
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LAS VEGAS — For several former local college football players, it was a weekend of opportunity centered around the events of the 2022 NFL Draft.

South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong Jr. and Chris Oladokun both heard their names called on Saturday, highlighting a group of seven local college athletes to earn NFL opportunities over the weekend.

A two-time All-American, Strong rushed for 4,527 yards and accounted for 49 total touchdowns during his four years in Brookings. The Little Rock, Arkansas, native had to wait until Day 3 of the NFL Draft for his selection but wasn’t kept waiting for long once the draft opened Saturday. With the 22nd pick of the fourth round, Strong became a New England Patriot, becoming the fourth running back taken in the fourth round and 10th overall to that point.

Five hours later, Oladokun was the seventh quarterback to come off the board, chosen with the 20th pick of the seventh round, 241st overall, by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Oladokun made prior stops at the University of South Florida and Samford before landing at SDSU for the 2021 season, during which he threw for 3,164 yards and 25 touchdowns to seven interceptions on 62.3% completion percentage.

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South Dakota State University's Chris Oladokun (6) passes the ball during the Jackrabbits' game against Dixie State University during the Beef Bowl game on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings.
Mitchell Republic file photo

Strong and Oladokun were the only athletes from South Dakota institutions selected in 2022, but three of their SDSU teammates and two players from the University of South Dakota earned undrafted free agent offers in the immediate aftermath of the draft.

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From SDSU, cornerback Don Gardener signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, safety Michael Griffin II signed with the Tennessee Titans and offensive lineman Aron Johnson signed with the Baltimore Ravens.

USD linebacker Jack Cochrane will join the Kansas City Chiefs, while safety Elijah Reed is headed to the New York Jets.

Gardener missed much of 2021 with a broken arm, but was a three-year starter for the Jackrabbits, appearing in 48 games with 133 total tackles, four interceptions and 20 passes defended.

Griffin began his career at Southwest Minnesota State but racked up 142 total tackles in three years at SDSU. During March’s SDSU Pro Day, Griffin recorded a 43.5-inch vertical leap, which topped any jump from the NFL Combine.

Johnson appeared in 48 games during his Jackrabbit career and made starts at both right and left tackle. The 6-foot-6, 300-pounder arrived in Brookings as a walk-on but left having cleared the way for Strong as part of one of the top rushing attacks in the nation.

Cochrane was predicted as a late-round pick by some experts after a 103-tackle, four-interception season in 2021. For his Coyote career, Cochrane amassed 327 tackles with two seasons of 100-plus.

Reed, who stands at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, notched 258 tackles in 47 career games for USD, capping his time in Vermillion with 77 tackles, two interceptions and four forced fumbles in 2021.

Rookie minicamps are scheduled for May 6-9 and May 13-16.

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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