Making his own legend

The temptation is a considerable one, but to compare Jerry Rice Jr.’s lithe frame, athletic explosiveness and recent football achievements to his famous father would be an unfair assessment.

That’s because the Menlo School’s junior wide receiver has proven to be a player of his own unique mold.

“We let him know that there is no way for us to imagine what it’s like being in his shoes,” Menlo coach Mark Newton. “There is a ridiculous amount of pressure put on him that he didn’t ask for. But he’s so humble and grounded and he’s a great student of the game. He does an amazing job of handling everything in stride.”

Being the son of the player who holds every major statistical receiving record in the NFL is a fact of life for Rice, who neither shuns nor boldly celebrates his famous heritage.

“I’ve been dealing with it for so long, it’s normal for me now,” he said. “My dad is my dad and I’m my own person. People close to me realize that.”

Like his father, Rice is excelling on the football field, albeit in a more expanded role than the one the 49ers’ great was known for. Rice the junior has been all over the place for the Knights this season — catching passes in the slot, grinding out yards in Menlo’s run-and-shoot offense and racking up tackles at his safety position. Oh, yeah, he also returns punts and kickoffs.

His statistics showcase his versatility. He has compiled 270 yards rushing on 32 carries, caught 19 passes for 284 yards, accumulated 21 tackles on defense and rung up 183 yards on kickoff and punt returns. Not bad for someone in his first year of varsity football and, as his teammates can attest, the numbers only tell the beginning of the story.

“Jerry is friends with everyone in the school,” said Menlo senior quarterback Travis Boyce, who has passed for more than 1,100 yards. “I didn’t know him that well before the season, but we’re real close now. No one would ever realize that he’s the son of a famous football player. He doesn’t have a big ego. He’s proven time and again that he’s willing to do anything for this team.”

Rice echoes those sentiments with a genuineness that belies his reputation.

“I honestly don’t care about my individual statistics,” Rice said. “The most important thing is that we win.”

Aftermoving up from the Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division, Menlo 4-1 overall and 2-1 in its first season since 2004 in the more competitive PAL Bay Division, where the Knights routinely square off against schools with much larger enrollments. Rice and the Knights face their biggest test Saturday when they host cross-town rival Menlo-Atherton (4-1, 2-0), which enters the contest in undefeated and first place in the Bay.

“We know if we execute, we can win,” said Rice, who actually lists basketball as his favorite sport. “Everyone’s looking at us as a huge underdog, but we feel confident that we can play with M-A.”

If the Knights do manage to pull off the upset, there will be one happy parent in the stands.

“My dad loves coming to the games,” Rice said. “People come up to him to talk, but I think they’re respectful and realize that he’s here to see me play.”

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