ST. LOUIS — Fifteen South Dakota State football student-athletes, led by three-time first-team selection Pierre Strong, Jr., were named Monday to the all-Missouri Valley Football Conference Team. Selections were determined by a vote among the league’s coaches, sports information directors and a select media panel.
Strong, a senior running back from Little Rock, Arkansas, finished the regular season with a league-best 1,317 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. A finalist for the Stats Perform FCS Walter Payton Award, he topped the 100-yard mark in eight of 11 games and averaged 6.9 yards per carry. In addition, Strong caught 20 passes for 133 yards and threw three touchdown passes.
Joining Strong on the first-team offense was sophomore tight end Tucker Kraft. The Timber Lake native tallied 51 receptions for 596 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season, surpassing the century mark in receiving yards on two occasions.
Linebackers Logan Backhaus and Adam Bock represented the Jackrabbits on the first-team defensive unit. A senior from Spirit Lake, Iowa, Backhaus was a repeat first-team honoree despite being limited to nine games due to injury. His regular season totals included 35 total tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
Bock, a sophomore from Solon, Iowa, posted a team-leading 100 tackles during regular season action, registering double figures in tackles six times. The Stats Perform FCS Buck Buchanan Award finalist ranked third on the squad with nine tackles for loss, while adding 2.5 sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles.
The Jackrabbit offensive and defensive lines were well-represented on the second team. SDSU garnered three of the five offensive line spots on the second unit as Wes Genant, Aron Johnson and Mason McCormick were honored for a squad that averaged 37.3 points and 441.1 yards of total offense per game during the regular season. McCormick was honored on the second team for the second season in a row, while Genant moved up from being an honorable mention selection this past spring. Johnson was honored for the first time.
Also repeating on the second-team offense was junior wide receiver Jaxon Janke. The Madison native hauled in team bests of 53 receptions and 876 receiving yards, averaging 16.5 yards per catch with three touchdowns. He went over the 100-yard mark five times, including each of the last four games of the regular seaon.
On the defensive side of the ball, tackle Caleb Sanders and end Reece Winkelman led the Jackrabbit contingent. Sanders, a senior from Glenwood, Iowa, bettered his numbers from the spring season, when he was a first-team all-MVFC selection, tallying team bests of 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss out of 26 total stops. He recorded at least a half-tackle for loss in 10 of 11 games.
Winkelman, a senior from Marshall, Minnesota, ranked second on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Also earning second-team recognition from the Jackrabbit defense was senior cornerback Don Gardner. After missing four league games due to injury, Gardner returned to the lineup for the stretch run in November and contributed 13 tackles, including one for loss. He also was a second-team honoree in 2019 and a first-team all-MVFC selection during the 2020-21 spring season.
Rounding out the SDSU second-team selections was long snapper Bradey Sorenson. The senior from Yankton returned to the line this fall and was part of a special teams unit that went 17-of-23 on field goal attempts and converted all 49 PATs. Sorenson previously was a second-team all-MVFC honoree in 2018.
To complete the Jackrabbit list of honorees, tight end Zach Heins, quarterback Chris Oladokun and kicker Cole Frahm received honorable mention recognition.
Heins, a junior from Sioux Falls, formed the other half of the Jackrabbits’ tandem at tight end, catching 18 passes for 199 yards with five touchdowns. He was a first-team all-league honoree this past spring.
In his lone season as a Jackrabbit, Oladokun made an immediate impact at quarterback, completing 63.9 percent (184-of-288) of his passes for 2,450 yards and 20 touchdowns against only five interceptions. A graduate transfer from Tampa, Florida, Oladokun threw at least one touchdown pass in 10 of 11 regular season games.
Frahm was an honorable mention selection for the second year in a row after ending the regular season as the team’s leading scorer with 98 points. The senior from Omaha, Nebraska, made all 47 of his extra-point tries and was 17-of-23 on field goals, including two of 50-plus yards. Frahm made at least one field goal in each of the team’s last 10 games.
South Dakota State finished the regular season with an 8-3 overall record, including a 5-3 mark in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Jackrabbits, who are making their 10th consecutive postseason appearance, won their Nov. 27 playoff opener over UC Davis, 56-24, and will travel to fourth-seeded Sacramento State this Saturday.