Brenden Rice improved heading into second year with CU Buffs

Receiver caught six passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns last season

Colorado wide receiver Brenden Rice speaks to reporters during media day at the Dal Ward Athletic Center on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
Colorado wide receiver Brenden Rice speaks to reporters during media day at the Dal Ward Athletic Center on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Brenden Rice provided a glimpse of potential greatness as a true freshman with the Colorado Buffaloes in 2020.

It was just a starting point, however, and the talented receiver from Chandler, Ariz., shook his head and smiled when asked recently what he did to improve this offseason.

“A lot,” said Rice, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound second-year freshman. “I was very out of control in my routes. I was out of control in my running. I didn’t really know how to make everything look the same.”

Despite that, Rice caught six passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns in CU’s five-game regular season in 2020. Including a punt return for a touchdown, he scored on three of the nine plays on which he touched the ball.

CU head coach Karl Dorrell, offensive coordinator/receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini, and offensive quality control coach Reggie Moore have all spent time working with Rice in preparation for this season.

CORRECTED CAPTION BOULDER, CO – AUGUST 14:University of Colorado Boulder Wide Receiver Brenden Rice (No. 2) runs the ball during a scrimmage at Folsom Field in Boulder on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

“His game has really gone to the next level,” Chiaverini said. “He’s got to still be consistent catching the football, but he’s explosive.”

Considering his surname and position, it seems fitting that Rice is developing into one of the Buffs’ best receivers. After all, his biological father, Jerry Rice, is the greatest receiver to ever play the game, with NFL records for receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and total touchdowns (208) that might never get broken.

Rice, however, is proud of the fact that he’s become a potential star on his own merit.

Rice didn’t grow up with Jerry but said the two “are cool” today as they develop their relationship. Rice grew up watching his father’s film, but he’s never received any coaching from Jerry. Nevertheless, there are obvious comparisons when Rice does shine on the field.

“There’s always gonna be comparisons,” Rice said. “But, you can’t take away from the player himself, because the player is actually going out there doing what he’s supposed to do to get better and to grow in the game that he loves.”

As the son of an NFL legend, Rice said there is a perception that his path to this point has been fairly easy.

“How everybody else in the world, the fans, expect it to be is that I am a kid that grew up with my dad; I’m a rich kid; I’m spoiled; I’m all this and I had everything laid out for me,” Rice said. “It’s not as fairy tale as it seems. We’ve had our patches and we’ve grown closer over time, but we haven’t worked into that step yet. But, I’m happy to have him in my life now.”

“He is a figure in my life and I look up to him, even though we’ve had our hardships.”

While Rice is grateful for a growing relationship with his father, his smile widened when asked about his mother, Djakarta Edwards.

“My mother has meant everything to me,” Rice said. “She assumed both roles in my life at one point. … For the most part, my mother has guided me. She’s just played a major role in my life and I am thankful for her.”

Rice is also relishing the opportunity with the Buffs. Recruited to CU by former head coach Mel Tucker, Rice – and others in his recruiting class – contemplated not even coming to Boulder after Tucker bolted for Michigan State less than two months after he signed his national letter of intent.

“We buckled down and held it together,” Rice said. “In the overall aspect of all things I’m happy to have stayed because I’ve got a (head coach who was a) wide receiver coach on my hands. He’s gonna correct me, he’s gonna develop me. He’s gonna make sure I’m gonna get to that next level and that all that matters.”

Part of the next step for Rice and all college athletes is new NCAA legislation that allows them to profit from their name, image and likeness. As a talented player with a famous father, Rice might be the most marketable player on the CU roster.

When NIL went into effect on July 1, Rice had 20,700 followers on Instagram – which ranked second among all CU athletes. Now, he’s up to around 39,200, which is nearly double the amount of any other athlete at CU. Running back Ashaad Clayton ranks second among football players, with about 12,100 followers.

Rice has been active in trying to build his brand but said that’s not the main focus at this time.

“It’s definitely a pretty good opportunity, but right now we have a football season that’s coming up and we truly all have to be locked in,” he said. “I’m trying to put my efforts towards the game and focusing on what I have to do now because everything else will come later.”

Rice’s efforts have put him in a better position to succeed than even a year ago and he’s eager to apply the lessons he’s learned over the past year to the field this year.

“I’m excited to show you,” Rice said of his improvement. “I’m not gonna speak on it too much, but I have a lot to show you all.

“I’ve been battling with my brothers. We’ve all been growing, so I’m happy. I’m excited to see what we all do.”