Betting on himself has paid off for South Dakota State QB Chris Oladokun as he prepares for the 2022 NFL Draft

Being under the radar is nothing new for South Dakota State quarterback Chris Oladokun. In fact, it's motivated his entire NFL Draft journey.

South Dakota State quarterback Chris Oladokun is a man short of nothing. Talent? He’s got it. Confidence? He exudes it. Respect? Well, that’s something he’s working on. Despite coming off the most successful season of his college career, Oladokun is still under the radar in the 2022 NFL Draft class. It’s not a position he’s unfamiliar with. Moreover, it’s a situation that he’s used to motivate his entire football journey.

Chris Oladokun betting on himself in the 2022 NFL Draft

“I still remember it every day,” Oladokun replies when I ask him about the coach who told him as a kid that he’d never be able to play quarterback. “I’d love to see him today, to see what he thinks. That’s been such a motivating factor my whole life. It still sticks around with me because I feel like I’ve always been trying to prove myself to other people and prove myself right.”

Clad in a hooded top emblazoned with the logo of the players union of the NFL — the league he was told he’d never get even remotely within touching distance of — Oladokun is charismatic, confident, cool, calm, and collected as he talks through his football journey with Pro Football Network. One theme is prevalent throughout our conversation.  The South Dakota State quarterback has always had to bet on himself.

The journey itself has been long. It’s also been varied. From the high schools of Tampa, through his first college stop at USF, a two-year sojourn at Samford that included the disrupted 2020 college season, to his final campaign with South Dakota State, Oladokun has experienced the highs and lows that college football has to offer. At every stop and with every step along that journey, he’s believed in himself when others didn’t.

“Everything came to fruition,” Oladokun reflected on his season with South Dakota State, the final stop on his college journey. “All the hard work that I’ve put in this last five, six years all came out this year. It’s something that I always knew I could do. But, I feel like a lot of people didn’t and they got to see that this year.”

Proving himself again, and again……and again

The 2021 college football campaign was Oladokun’s most statistically successful season of his career. In his sole season with the Jackrabbits, he threw for 3,164 passing yards and 25 touchdowns. He also rushed for 2 scores while snagging 2 receiving touchdowns. Oladokun’s had standout performances before, however. At Samford in 2019, he threw 6 touchdowns against Tennessee Tech, tying the school’s single-game record.

“I just felt like many people didn’t believe in me,” Oladokun recalls after his transfer to Samford from USF ahead of the 2019 season. “After that game, I just remember thinking ‘if they didn’t respect me before the game, they have to now.’ I just let the play talk for me.”

Although he threw for 2,064 yards and tallied a total of 20 touchdowns in his first season with Samford, Oladokun was still doubted, still striving for respect. The long offseason caused by the disruption of the global pandemic gave him time to reflect on his career, reflect on people’s perception of him, and ultimately build his motivation to succeed.

“I learned a lot about myself. I think I matured a lot. Just from being disciplined, from the work I put in. It was a time for me to reflect on my career to that point. I felt like a lot of people were writing me off, didn’t believe in me. That was always my motivating factor, just trying to get better.”

Oladokun’s early football exposure helped develop confidence and a desire to be great

To understand Oladokun’s self-confidence and desire to be great in the face of adversity, you have to go back to his footballing roots. Growing up in the talent-rich state of Florida, the Tampa native had a vision for himself from a young age. His dream of playing in the NFL, the one he stands on the verge of, originates there.

“That was always the goal of mine. I didn’t grow up watching cartoons, grew up watching SportsCenter and all the highlights that would come on after school. I always saw myself in that light. ‘One day, that’s going to be me they’re talking about.’ It’s something that I’ve worked really hard to get to.”

A baseball shortstop and pitcher, Oladokun had a naturally gifted arm from a young age. With excellence on the basketball field, he also had genuine athletic ability. Growing up as the first wave of mobile quarterbacks hit the NFL, he gravitated towards players that resembled his natural attributes while searching for a QB role model at a time when black quarterbacks were a rarity in the NFL.

“Just like every other kid it was Michael Vick,” Oladokun reflects on his childhood football icons. “I had the Michael Vick cleats, and my first number was seven because of Michael Vick. You didn’t see a lot of black quarterbacks in the league, especially at that time. To see a black quarterback, guys like Cam [Newton], Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, to see someone who looked like you play the position you wanted to play, was pretty cool.”

Developing in the highly competitive Florida high school arena

Growing up in Tampa gave Oladokun the opportunity to play high school football at the highest level. Alongside Texas, Florida has a reputation for excellence and producing elite athletes. The exposure helped fuel a competitive nature and the belief that he could succeed that he still carries with him today.

“Being a kid from Florida, you take a lot of pride in playing in a state that has the greatest high school football, which I believe that Florida does. You see all around the NFL, how many kids come from the Florida high school level. Every week was competitive. There’s very few ‘gimme’ games where you knew you were going to win. It’s crazy, I grew up with kids that are in the NFL now or playing D1 ball.”

It’s very easy to get lost in a state like Florida, where everyone is an elite athlete and the level of competition is so high. You might presume from Oladokun’s college journey and his battles to overcome opinion that he was one that slipped through the cracks. However, the origins of the South Dakota State’s confidence can be found here.

“There was a big quarterback challenge here in Tampa. Pretty much from eighth grade all the way to seniors. I was looking up to these senior quarterbacks that they say are the best in the county and I went in thinking that I could show them what I could do. I ended up winning it as a freshman. That really gave me the confidence to think I could make it if I kept working hard with good coaches and family around me.”

A winding college career

In two seasons with Alonso High School, Oladokun threw for 3,646 yards and 32 touchdowns. Having showcased his arm talent, he transferred to Sickles High School for his senior year. A more balanced offense saw less production, but it gave the young QB valuable experience of multiple schemes. A much sought-after three-star recruit, Oladokun held multiple Power Five offers but opted to stay at home with USF.

Although he redshirted his freshman season, Oladokun spent time on the scout team where he was treated as “like I was going to play every Saturday, which I appreciated.” Oladokun credits former USF QB Quinton Flowers and QB coach Shaun King with helping develop in that time. He’d expected to be the starter when Flowers moved on, but USF became the first adversity of his college football career.

“When you sign, you think you’re going to be the guy. After Quinton left I expected that to be my time. But as I’ve gotten older, you realize that everything happens for a reason. I loved my time at USF, I’m really close with a lot of the guys there. At the time, you’re upset about how things worked out. But in the long run, I think it was the best thing for me.”

Oladokun transferred to Samford ahead of the 2019 season. Yet, despite taking the drop down to the FCS level and making eight starts in his debut season, Oladokun never really made the starting job his own. Following a 2021 spring season where he attempted just 56 passes in limited action, it was time to make another move.

South Dakota State provides a place to call home

“Well it’s a funny story, actually,” Oladokun begins when I ask him why South Dakota State. “I was down here in Tampa. At the time, I was committed to Florida A&M, thinking about going to an HBCU. They’re a top program and I was really excited to go there. One day, I was working out, quarterback coach got a call and he said ‘Listen, someone is going to call you, and I think you should answer the phone.’

“They pretty much told me, ‘Look, we have the same team coming back next year, we need someone to lead us to the promised land. You’re the guy we want to do that for us.’ That really meant a lot to me because going through my journey I was always battling uphill, feeling that people didn’t believe in me. At times, I felt like I was the only one that believed in me. So for a coach to call me, and believe in me to lead them, meant a lot.

“It was a leap of faith, and ultimately the best decision I ever made.”

Although the program came up short of a national championship, Oladokun led South Dakota State to the FCS semifinals, repaying the faith he held in himself and that the program had paid in him. He describes “the way the coaches really believed and trusted in me” as the highlight of his Jackrabbits career alongside the friendships he made during one season as a starter that helped thrust him into the NFL Draft spotlight.

Oladokun ready to continue to prove people wrong in the 2022 NFL Draft process

Having spent the majority of his college career on the move — overlooked and underappreciated — Oladokun found a home at South Dakota State. More importantly, he found a catalyst for his NFL Draft dreams. While not many people might have believed in or noticed him before, the scouting team at the NFLPA Bowl were certainly paying attention.

“It meant a lot,” Oladokun reflects on his invite to Pasadena. “I felt like I wasn’t getting a lot of notice, a lot of respect. That was one of my personal goals at the start of the season, to get invited to one of the three major all-star games. So, when I got that call it was exciting. But, I knew the work was just beginning.”

Although he had some difficulties in the game itself, Oladokun impressed during the week of practice in Pasadena. The South Dakota State QB says he spoke to 22 of the 32 NFL teams. He also spoke at length about learning what it means to be a professional during the NFLPA Bowl. But, what does he believe he brings to the table as an NFL Draft quarterback prospect?

“I think, you look back at all my years, the thing that jumps off the tape is how I was able to extend plays, make explosive plays outside of the pocket with both my arm and my legs. Also, I’ve won from the pocket. That was a big thing for me. Showing NFL scouts that I can stand in there and throw a 20-yard dig route down the middle of the field on a rope and take a hit, take a shot, and get back up and keep the drive moving.”

A mobile quarterback with a strong arm, Oladokun is ready to continue his journey

With Michael Vick as a role model, mobility has always been a key part of Oladokun’s game. He points to Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen as modern-day examples of being able to take a “bad situation” in a “chaotic NFL” and “make it a positive” with mobility. As he trains and prepares for the NFL Draft, the South Dakota State QB also knows even the best are continually striving to get better.

“Right now I’m working with my coach to improve all my areas. Even guys like Patrick Mahomes are always looking for ways to get better. Footwork, you know going from college to the league is a lot different. Making sure I stay consistent and sharp with my accuracy, inside and outside the pocket. I’m a guy who likes to work different arm angles so I’m having fun with that to see what I can and can’t do. Working on everything to elevate my game.”

From his final season in South Dakota State, through the NFLPA Bowl, and into his upcoming pro day, Oladokun is building momentum ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft. While he doesn’t know what his future holds, Oladokun believes he can lead a team at the NFL level. That belief in himself, even when others didn’t believe, has gotten him this far. Oladokun isn’t ready to stop believing just yet.

“I’ve put so much work in throughout my career. A lot of people probably thought that I wouldn’t make it this far. They thought that I would have quit a couple of years ago, would have given up on myself. But, I fought through a lot of adversity to get here. It’s going to be a great story for me to continue on.”

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter: @ojhodgkinson.

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