This is my Saturday column on Jerry Rice Jr.
SANTA CLARA – I feel sorry for Jerry Rice Jr.
He’s an undrafted free agent wide receiver trying out for the 49ers. He caught nine passes during two seasons at UCLA. He transferred to UNLV and caught 10. He’s 5-10 and runs a 4.68 40-yard dash. He’s slower and shorter than most receivers in the NFL. Odds are against him making the 49ers or any NFL team.
That’s not why I feel sorry for him. Good for him for getting a tryout.
It’s his DNA and his name that ask for sympathy. He’s the son of the greatest football player ever. He’s even named after him. He’s not Hector Rice or Elmore Rice. He’s Jerry Rice Jr. Jerry Rice II. He’s supposed to be the second coming of greatness. With Jerry Rice’s genes and his advice, how could his son not be the best?
Rice Junior is the biggest story at the 49ers’ rookie minicamp because of his DNA and his name. Rice Junior constantly has to answer the same questions:
What advice did your dad give you today?
How many times have you run the hill and have you ever beaten your dad up the hill?
What would it mean to your dad if you made the 49ers?
If Rice Jr. had different DNA, he wouldn’t have to answer any questions. He wouldn’t have any interview requests. He’d be some guy trying hard to make a team.
Instead, he has to force a smile and tell reporters that his dad advised him to work hard and do his best.
At the end of his group interview Friday afternoon, one reporter asked him what players in the locker room say when they see his name?
“Everybody has been respectful,” Rice Junior said. “I haven’t had anything bad happen.”
That’s a start.
The group interview ended. I pulled Rice Junior to the side.
“You used the word ‘respectful’ a moment ago.” I said. “Has anyone ever disrespected you because you’re Jerry Rice’s son?”
“Oh, yeah, of course,” he said, like he was surprised that was even a question. “I didn’t play football until high school. My freshman year I dropped a ball, and guys on the other team were in my head talking about how I was never going to be this, I was never going to be that. At first, it frustrated me and I used to get upset. But my dad told me, ‘You’ve got to take it as a burden or as a challenge.’ I definitely take it as a challenge. I learned to let it go in one ear and out the other.”
Rice Junior went to Menlo High School in Atherton. He grew up with his dad who took him to 49ers games when he was little. “They say I used to kick Steve Young in the shin all the time,” Rice Junior said. The perks of being Jerry Rice’s son.
What is the hardest part about being Rice’s son and sharing his name?
He answered before I finished asking the question. “It’s the expectations that everybody has. Everybody expects the finished product because of all of the accolades and achievements he has. But you always have to start somewhere. He was a diamond-in-the-rough prospect who shaped up and shined. I’m trying to do the same, and everybody thinks that I need to be that finished product right now, but no. It’s a process. I’m going through the process right now.”
Rice Junior was speed talking. When he finished, he was breathing heavily.
Would it be easier to play football if he were not Jerry Rice’s son? Would it be easier if Rice Junior were Jerry Smith instead?
Rice Junior laughed. “Maybe. I haven’t really thought about it that way because my whole life I grew up a Rice. I’ve got the same name. I’m just trying to do the best I can do. That’s all he can ask for, that’s all the rest of my family can ask for. If I make or team or not, as long as I put in a full effort they will be happy with that.”
If he puts in a full effort and doesn’t make an NFL team this year, what’s his next move?
“Thought about going to play in Canada. Maybe get my Masters. While I’m young, I’m going to stick to football and see what happens and keep knocking on doors until hopefully someone answers.”
Rice Junior already has graduated from UCLA with a degree in history. If he goes to graduate school, he wants to go to the University of San Francisco. “I thought about doing sports management,” he said. “Maybe I’d start here as an intern with the 49ers and work my way up the office.”
The word “intern” hit me like lightning. I looked at him and all I could see was his dad – the same nose, the same eyes, the same smile. Imagine Jerry Rice interning for the 49ers.
I wrote above I feel sorry for Jerry Rice Jr. But maybe I don’t, not after speaking to him. Why should I? He doesn’t feel sorry for himself. Best of luck, Jerry II.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.