March, 20 2023
Before Jerry Rice set NCAA and NFL records for receiving, he honed his strong grip and hand-eye coordination in an extreme manner. The son of a Starkville, MS bricklayer, young Jerry Rice spent hours a day catching bricks that his father threw to him as they worked in the stifling heat. “Catching bricks taught me the meaning of hard work,” Rice told Sports Illustrated.
The sure-handed Rice scored 35 touchdowns his senior year at Moor High School but was not heavily recruited. He enrolled at Mississippi Valley State where he was united with College Football Hall of Fame quarterback Willie Totten. The duo proved effective almost immediately. Rice was second team All-SWAC as a freshman and first team as a sophomore.
Rice began attracting national attention at the same time he was becoming the sole focus of defensive coaches. Despite double and triple-teams, Rice led the nation with 102 receptions as a junior in 1983. He was named the SWAC Player of the Year and an All-American. As a senior in 1984, Rice caught 103 passes for 1,682 yards and 27 touchdowns. He was again an All-American and finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Rice explained that it required a unique physicality before and after the catch to defeat so many defenders. “You’ve got to get rid of the first man, run the pattern on the second man, and take the ball away from the third man,” he said. “I’m always looking to turn it up field and run over some people.” Any concerns that Rice was making his mark against lower-level competition were cleared up at the 1985 Blue-Gray Classic. Rice was the MVP of the all-star game, catching four passes for 101 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown.
The San Francisco 49ers drafted Rice in the first round in 1985 and he spent the next twenty years setting NFL records that may not be approachable. He retired as the all-time leader in receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and total touchdowns (208). It was all in days’ work for the 2006 College Football Hall of Fame inductee.