Rice put together an incredible Hall of Fame career.
The San Francisco 49ers made Jerry Rice their first-round pick in the 1985 NFL Draft out of Mississippi Valley State, which was a part of the Southwestern Athletic Conference in NCAA Division 1-AA football.
Rice was a standout receiver for the Delta Devils, setting division records for receptions and receiving yards in a single season. But the legendary wide receiver revealed in a recent interview that he was skeptical of his own stock going into the draft.
“To be honest, I never thought I was going to get drafted,” he told Fox News Digital in a recent interview. “I downplayed everything because I didn’t want that disappointment of getting up here and then come down in disappointment if it didn’t happen. A lot of my friends, a lot of people around me, were saying that, ‘Hey, you’re going to get drafted, you’re going to get drafted.’ But you know, I downplayed it and I got drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, and it’s just like something I’ll never forget.”
He said he was in a two-bedroom apartment with his brother in Jackson, Mississippi, when he got the call.
“I have one camera guy and I get the call from the greatest coach ever, Bill Walsh. And it was so cool. Here I am, I’m on the phone and I’m just smiling to myself.” Rice said. “And then after I hung the phone up, I said, ‘Oh my God, they just won the Super Bowl. They just won the Super Bowl against the Miami Dolphins at Stanford University. I’m gonna get a chance to meet (Joe) Montana, Dwight Clark, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig. All these great players. Oh my God. Where can I fit in?’ But I had to pinch myself, man, and it was a dream come true.”
Rice said he set high expectations for himself coming into the league, wanting to prove that even guys from smaller schools can play football really well.
“I think I set a high standard for myself because I felt if I had success in the NFL coming from a small, predominantly Black school, then other players are gonna get the opportunity. That was something I put on my shoulders and I wanted to go in and prove to everybody that ‘Hey, look, yes, I’m from a small school but I know how to play this game,’” Rice told Fox News Digital.
He added that a slow start to his first season meant blocking out the noise and ignoring talking heads calling him a bust.
“When I first came in, I said, ‘I’m gonnna catch everything from Montana. Everything Montana throws me I’m gonna catch it. I got to win his confidence over.’ I was catching everything at practice but then during ball games and during preseason, I was dropping everything. I remember getting booed. I remember the media getting so down on me and saying, ‘Hey, look how can you go draft this guy out of Mississippi Valley State University from a small school like that and he’s dropping footballs? It’s just no way. He’s gonna be a bust,’” he said.
“So, I had some adversity right from the start and I was able to fight through that because of my coaches, the organization, my teammates. They got me through it because they were seeing it during practice. But now I just had to transition that to the football field on Sundays, those Mondays, those preseason games and those regular-season games.”
The rest, for Rice, is history. He would produce a Hall of Fame career in which he won three Super Bowls with the 49ers and was a 10-time All-Pro. He finished his career with 1,549 receptions for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns – all of which are all-time records.
Rice, who partnered with the American Red Cross to advocate for blood donations, offered some advice to wide receivers who are about to hear their names called during the NFL Draft next week in Las Vegas and are sure to hear some criticism.
“I think you’re going to go through adversity and you’re gonna have to be able to fight through it. If you get knocked down, you got to get back up,” Rice said “The most important thing that I did was that I surrounded myself. I made sure I watched what the veterans like the Montanas, like the Clarks, all of those guys, how they conducted themselves, how they prepared for a game, and you got there and play the game and be productive. So, that’s going to be very important, but you got to work. You’ve got to be willing to sacrifice and give 100%. The most important thing is the team. Football is not just about one individual. You have to work together as a cohesive group. If you do that, you’re going to win football games.”