Brenden Rice could have played running back or a position on defense.
Instead, the Colorado Buffaloes freshman chose receiver, where everything he does will be compared to the best to ever play the position: his father, Jerry Rice.
“It’s extremely hard, honestly,” he said of trying to make a name for himself. “But you’ve gotta look at it like a blessing and a curse at the same time.”
The blessing: Rice caught two passes for 38 yards, including his first career touchdown, in Saturday’s 35-32 win at Stanford.
The curse: ESPN’s “College Football Final” led its highlights show with Rice catching the first touchdown pass of his career, including a graphic showing Brenden needing 49 more to match the 50 touchdowns his father scored at Mississippi Valley State from 1981-84.
A 6-foot-3, 205 pound true freshman from Chandler, Ariz., Rice is used to the comparisons.
“It’s how you go about it, how you take care of yourself every day, how you go after it every day – just a mentality and everything you do in life,” he said. “Because honestly, although I do have that last name Rice, I have my first name, Brenden. That’s what it starts with every single day.”
Rice, in fact, didn’t grow up with his father. He was raised by his mother, Jackie Edwards.
“He’s got a great mom; his mom’s awesome,” said CU offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini, who recruited Rice to CU. “Jackie, she did an unbelievable job raising him.”
It wasn’t until the last few years that Rice and his father began building their relationship.
“That’s actually amazing how we developed and how we actually got to know each other a little bit better,” Rice said.
Growing up in Arizona, Rice, excelled in several sports, including basketball and track and field. On the football field, he played running back and defense, but he developed a receiver’s body.
“I had the speed for it, I had the physicality, the mentality for it,” said Rice, who caught 123 passes for 2,139 yards and 27 touchdowns during his career at Hamilton High School. “Honestly, when I developed and grew into it more and more, I saw myself as being a receiver. I wanted to break those records; I wanted to be the next legendary Rice.”
But, in his own way.
Jerry Rice had a Hall of Fame career with the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks from 1985-2004. He holds NFL records for career catches (1,549), receiving yards (22,895), receiving touchdowns (197) and total touchdowns (208).
No receiver on the planet has been able to measure up to Jerry Rice’s numbers.
CU’s coaches aren’t comparing Brenden to his famous father, but Chiaverini and head coach Karl Dorrell are both long-time receivers coaches who see great qualities in the freshman.
“We talk about it all the time about having your own legacy,” Chiaverini said. “He’s gonna be a really good player for a long time. He’s got a high ceiling. He works extremely hard. He’s the first true freshman that I’ve felt confident in playing, even when I had (Laviska Shenault). Viska struggled to learn the system, but Brenden’s really picked it up. I have a lot of confidence in him. He has a bright future at CU.”
That’s high praise considering Shenault, a second-round draft choice of the Jacksonville Jaguars in April, was arguably the best player at CU in the last 25 years.
Even without Shenault this year, the Buffs are loaded at receiver with KD Nixon (who hasn’t played yet this season because of a hamstring injury), Dimitri Stanley, Daniel Arias, Maurice Bell, La’Vontae Shenault and others.
“Honestly, I just try to go out there and do my best, try make sure I get the reps, learn off of mistakes and keep battling every day,” said Rice, who wears Laviska Shenault’s former number, 2.
Rice has worked his way into the rotation and has three catches for 43 yards through the first two games.
“He’s got a chance to have his own great career, and he’s going to do it on his own merit, not on the merits or coattails of anything else,” Dorrell said. “He’s a very determined kid, very competitive kid. I’m a Brenden Rice fan. … If he continues to trend like he’s doing, he’s going to be an excellent player in his own right.”
Rice, who tries to model his game after DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals, said he’s enjoying the competition among CU’s receivers and the opportunity to learn from Chiaverini and Dorrell.
“It’s a lot of criticism, honestly,” he said of being coached at CU. “It’s a lot of criticism, but it’s gonna make me better at the end of the day. I came here to CU to get better. Coach Karl Dorrell and coach Chiaverini, they’re going to develop me and make me into the person I want to be.”
As Rice develops into his own person, he hopes ESPN has to frequently update that graphic comparing his touchdown total with his father’s. He’s got a ways to go, but after the first one, he got a congratulatory text from his father, as well as from half brother Jerry Rice, Jr., a former UCLA and UNLV receiver.
“It was really cool just to hear from them,” Rice said.