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."