Rice headlines new College hall class

Published 1:14 am Sunday, August 6, 2006

Jerry Rice’s spectacular football career might never have happened if he hadn’t played hooky one day in 10th grade.

His principal at B.L. Moor High School in Mississippi was on the prowl for the elusive Rice and walked up behind him in a hallway. When he called his name, a startled Rice took off.

“He said, ’Wow, this guy is really fast,”’ Rice said.

When the principal caught up with him later, Rice got his punishment and was ordered to go out for the football team.

“I was not the most talented,” he said. “I had to work really hard to prove to everyone that I belong. I think the players respected it.”

It was that work ethic, learned by helping his father lay bricks in the hot Mississippi summers, that led Rice to his standout career and his induction Saturday into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Joining Rice are college football’s all-time winningest coach, John Gagliardi, and former Idaho quarterback John Friesz.

Former Division I-A players who were inducted into the hall last December in New York and being enshrined Saturday at a dinner are Alabama linebacker Cornelius Bennett, USC tailback Anthony Davis, Pittsburgh tackle Mark May and Notre Dame quarterback John Huarte. Former Auburn coach Pat Dye and former West Virginia coach Don Nehlen also are being enshrined.

Even though Rice is generally regarded as the greatest receiver of all time, retiring from the NFL with 38 records and three Super Bowl titles, the college honor is still special.

“It means a lot because that’s where I started at Mississippi Valley State University,” he said. “I think everything I started working on happened at Mississippi Valley State University.”

Rice went to the Division I-AA school because he wasn’t recruited much by Division I-A teams. He got letters from Mississippi State and others, but no personal visits. Rice believes going to the smaller school was better for him.

“At a small black school like that, it’s not like a major school, like a Notre Dame or a USC or those powerhouses. I had to work harder to get the recognition and get drafted in the pros,” he said.

Playing at Mississippi Valley State from 1981-84, Rice caught the attention of NFL scouts by finishing with 310 career receptions, 4,856 receiving yards and 51 touchdowns. He caught an NCAA record 24 passes against Southern in 1983.

“He had a lot of great moments, but that game was one of the most remarkable I’ve ever seen,” said Willie Totten, the Mississippi Valley State quarterback who was inducted into the hall last year. “He was catching it from everywhere. If the ball was in the air, he was coming down with it. He was coming down with it when the pass wasn’t even for him.”

Even with such great statistics, Rice said he didn’t seriously begin to think about an NFL career until his senior season. He even had doubts about being drafted when people started projecting him as a first-round pick. “We all dream about it. But going to a small school like that, the odds against that are extremely high,” he said.

Not bad for a man who got his start skipping class.