Big Rapids, Mich. - A third Ferris State University football product from this past year will have an opportunity to play professionally in the National Football League as defensive tackle Chris Okoye (Novi/Detroit Catholic Central) signed with the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
The 6-6, 320-pound Okoye is the third member of the Bulldog squad from last fall to earn an NFL opportunity as former All-America teammate Zach Sieler (Pinckney) became FSU's first-ever NFL Draft pick when he was selected by the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday in the seventh round and defensive back Tavierre Thomas (Detroit/Allen) inked with the Arizona Cardinals as a priority free agent following the draft.
Okoye also becomes the seventh Ferris State football alum currently with an NFL organization and is expected to join the team for their upcoming rookie mini-camp soon. He helped lead the Bulldogs to the NCAA Division II National Quarterfinals for the second consecutive year as a senior last fall.
In his final season, Okoye plugged the middle for one of the nation's top defensive units and finished with 25 tackles, including seven sholo hits, while also totaling two tackles for loss and a forced fumble while starting all 13 games. The four-year letterwinner was an All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) First Team pick and was named to the Football Gazette All-America Team.
As a senior, Okoye was also a Football Gazette All-Super Region Three honoree and invited to compete in the 2018 College Gridiron Showcase All-Star event and was chosen to the National Football Foundation (NFF) Hampshire Honor Society for his work both on the field and in the classroom.
This past year, Okoye helped lead the Bulldogs to their fourth consecutive NCAA Division II Playoff appearance. FSU reached the D2 National Quarterfinals for the second consecutive campaign following a national semifinal berth in 2016.
In his final season, he also helped the Bulldogs finish the recent 2017 campaign with an 11-2 overall record. FSU's 11 wins this past season marked the fourth consecutive year in which the Bulldogs had achieved the feat, which represents the first time in school history in which FSU had done so over four-straight years.
As part of this year's senior class, he also guided the Bulldogs achieve a 45-7 overall record over the past four years with four playoff appearances, two conference championships, two national quarterfinal berths, a semifinal game appearance and a super region championship.
Along with Sieler and Thomas, the Bulldogs also currently have four other former standouts active in NFL organizations, including defensive tackle Justin Zimmer who was signed by the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent last week. Former two-time Harlon Hill Trophy winning quarterback Jason Vander Laan is a tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, linebacker Brady Sheldon is with the Oakland Raiders and wide receiver Jake Lampman is in the Tampa Bay Buccanneers' organization. Vander Laan, Sheldon and Lampman have all seen NFL regular-season action over the past two seasons. Last year, Sheldon earned a tryout invitation with the Raiders and eventually was moved to the active roster.
While no Ferris State football player had ever been drafted by an NFL team before Sieler, according to the official NFL Draft Report, several former Bulldogs have inked NFL contracts as free agents and played in the league. Including this year, the Bulldogs have now had at least one NFL free agent pickup following the draft each of the past five years.
Unofficially, at least 15 former Ferris State players have previously inked NFL free agent deals prior to this year's class. Former defensive back Marvin Robinson inked with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014 with defensive tackle Marcus Cribbs signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015. Those two represented the first since free agent cornerback Angelo Williams with the Minnesota Vikings in 2010. Previously, in 2013, former defensive end Jordan Morgan received a rookie tryout with the New York Giants, but did not sign. In 2016, Vander Laan, Lampman and Zimmer all signed and reached NFL camps while Sheldon did likewise in 2017.
The select group also consists of running back Dave Gagnon (1974-Chicago Bears), outside linebacker Monty Brown (1997-New York Jets), defensive tackle Ed Philion (1994-Buffalo Bills), defensive end Dave Zuiderveen (2001-Atlanta Falcons), flanker Clarence Coleman (2002-Buffalo Bills), tackle Matt McCoy (2004-Detroit Lions), wide receiver Carlton Brewster (2006-Cleveland Browns) and defensive tackle Jake Visser (2009-Houston Texans).
Two other former Ferris State players, offensive guard Bill Bourdlais and safety Patrick Wells, received tryout invitations from the Cleveland Browns in 2008 and participated in the team's rookie minicamp, but did not ink a deal. Several others have also had NFL tryouts including wide receiver Andre Johnson (1989), quarterback Dave DenBraber (1987) and receiver/returner Fred Kirkland (1981). Defensive back James Skodak (2006) also had tryouts with several NFL organizations among other past Bulldog standouts.