Strong Jr. leads three-headed SDSU running attack

Andrew Holtan/Register: SDSU running back Pierre Strong Jr. runs the ball during practice at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium Monday night. Strong led the Jackrabbits in 2018 with 1,116 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.

BROOKINGS – Heading into the 2019 season, South Dakota State has more depth at the running back position than they’ve ever had. Leading the way is sophomore Pierre Strong Jr.

Strong finished last season with 1,116 yards and 11 touchdowns, which were both team-high’s. He burst onto the scene during conference play when senior Isaac Wallace went down with a season-ending injury. 

With his end goal being playing in the NFL, this offseason Strong worked on gaining weight and getting stronger and faster.

“I need to improve my size,” Strong said. “I’m trying to get to the next level, so I’d say my size … I want to get bigger and faster. I know where I want to go and I know what it takes. So I just want to get my body ready for it. You know, I get hit a lot so I need to be stronger to take all those hits.”

Strong said he weighed in at the end of last season at 198 pounds and right now he is at 208 pounds.  

“I need to get my legs bigger so I can be more explosive. I’d like to get to 213 or 215,” Strong said.

He added that he’d like to still be able to run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.

Last season, Strong Jr. was the workhorse for the Jacks. Mikey Daniel and C.J. Wilson also got carries, but when Strong played well SDSU kept him in the game.

He ran for over 100 yards in five of his final six games, including rushing for 253 yards and a touchdown in the regular season finale against South Dakota. It was the 10th-best single-game rushing total in SDSU history.

With the strong finish to his 2018 campaign, Strong knows that teams are going to key in on him.

“If a team gets too locked in on me then C.J. and Mikey can come in and have a good game. If they just want to key in on me then we’re just going to hurt them with our other backs,” Strong said.

Strong and the other returning starters have been pushed into a leadership role with redshirt freshman J’Bore Gibbs starting at quarterback.
“We’ve really had to get the offense together in fall camp,” Strong said. “You know, we lost Taryn [Christion], but I think J’Bore is going to step up and everyone else is going to have to step up too.”

Another difference from this season compared to last is the offensive play calling. Jason Eck is the Jacks new offensive coordinator and changed things up during the offseason.

“We changed a lot. Coach Eck came in and he wants the ball in our playmakers hands and we’ve got a lot of playmakers. Our last offensive coordinator was great, but he didn’t get the ball in our playmakers hands,” Strong said.

Eck plans on using the his running backs in the passing games, but Strong said he thinks most of his yardage will still come on the ground.

“They count on me to be the workhorse, so I’m just ready for that,” Strong said.

SDSU opens the season on Thursday against Minnesota. This will be the first time Strong will face a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision and he’s ready to take on the Golden Gophers.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Strong said. “I’m not going to lay down though. They have a great defense and they’re solid. But we both human, so it can go either way.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday in Minneapolis and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

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