NFL Rookie Q&A: Chargers WR Brenden Rice Is Already Raving About Jim Harbaugh, Justin Herbert

The seventh-round pick thinks he’s landed in the best possible spot alongside a “brilliant” coach and a “goofy” yet hard-working quarterback.
Rice is looking on the bright side after falling to the seventh round of the 2024 NFL draft.
Rice is looking on the bright side after falling to the seventh round of the 2024 NFL draft. / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Brenden Rice waited until the seventh round of the 2024 NFL draft to get the special phone call he’d been waiting on for many years. The Los Angeles Chargers made his childhood dream come true, but he’s not expecting them to make life easy for him in the NFL. 

Rice, the son of San Francisco 49ers legend Jerry Rice, took time to speak with Sports Illustrated during last week’s NFLPA Rookie Premiere in downtown Los Angeles. The younger Rice opened up about his draft slide and shared the lessons he’s learned from coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Justin Herbert.

The promising wideout from USC waited until pick No. 225 to learn he’s staying in Southern California, but being a seventh-round selection hasn’t stopped him from having high expectations in the NFL. 

“Hopefully, when it’s all said and done, I will go down as one of the best Chargers that ever lived,” Rice says. 

Here’s what else Rice had to say during an exclusive interview with SI.

Sports Illustrated: What have you enjoyed about participating in the NFLPA Rookie Premiere? 

Brenden Rice: Talking with a group of guys with different backgrounds and learning about their stories and how they ended up here. We’ve been having many conversations about all the trials and tribulations and what they’ve gone through. Everybody’s story is different. 

SI: Have you gotten a chance to get to know your teammate and fellow rookie wide receiver Ladd McConkey?

BR: Yeah, he’s also here. We have a conjoint [rookie] card of me and him. I just found out about it. It looked pretty cool. 

SI: When you see a card of you with Chargers gear, does it remind you of making it to the NFL? Has that been a surreal experience?

BR: Yeah, it’s very surreal. Just to be in this opportunity of a lifetime and actually be able to go about it in a professional manner, like man, it makes the little boy in me proud. 

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SI: I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot, but how difficult was the draft for you? You waited until the seventh round to get that special phone call from the Chargers.

BR: The situation planned out perfectly. I couldn't have asked for a better script from God. Honestly, yeah, it was very frustrating, but at the same time, like I’m in the best position possible, so I’m going to look forward to brighter beginnings. 

SI: How’s it been getting to know Jim Harbaugh? He’s quite the character. 

BR: He’s for sure a character. But that’s where the brilliance comes from. The brilliant minds are never like the normal people. They’re always the ones who are a little quirky or just different. Those are the guys who you really want to go pick their brains and get to know because I swear they will go ahead and transcend your game to a different level. 

Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh during OTAs
Harbaugh is looking to reenergize a Chargers franchise that’s had its fair share of heartbreaks in recent years. / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

SI: Does Harbaugh also show you tough love? How is he as a coach?

BR: The other day I was like, ‘Coach, I’m going to be sticking around here for a while.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, you’re talking about it, but you better go show it on the field instead of talking about it. Your actions speak louder than words.’ So, I was like, ‘O.K.’

SI: How’s it been getting to work with Chargers receivers coach Sanjay Lal?

BR: It’s been amazing. He really is a person who has a lot of attention to detail, and I feel like I’ve been coached in certain areas before, but he’s coaching me in the fashion of how to be a big, longer stride guy and use it to my advantage, like the DK Metcalfs, the Sammy Watkins’, so he’s gone ahead and just broken down my game little by little, allowing me to become a lot more smoother in my route running as well as knowing what my body can and can’t do. With that, it’s only going to transcend my game. 

SI: Justin Herbert likes to introduce himself as, ‘I’m Justin. I play quarterback.’ Did he introduce himself that way and how’s it been getting to work with him?

BR: Man, Justin is a goofy dude, but he works his tail off. First time I met him, it was a formal introduction, really. But then we got out on that field and he was over here challenging me to carry bricks all the way across the field and see who can last longer. I’m like, ‘Man, this dude’s got like 10-inch hands.’ But I’m keeping up with him at first and he’s eyeing me down making sure I don’t drop them. He got me that first time. He’s a cool dude, he’s a hard worker.

SI: What excites you about playing with Justin Herbert?

BR: I ran a four-step out the other day and I didn’t get my head around fast enough and that ball was damn near right in my face. I almost got hit with the ball. So I was like, ‘O.K., he’s got a little more power and a little more speed.’ I’m going to have to get in and out of my routes a little bit quicker, turn my head a little bit quicker because when that ball is in the air, it’s flying. If he sees you’re going to be open, he’s going to put it out there, so there’s no chance for the [defensive back] to go ahead and correct it.

SI: Obviously, many know you as Jerry Rice’s son. But what’s one thing or hobby you have that maybe people don’t know much about you?

BR: I’m into poetry. … I write [poems] sometimes. There’s a lot to write about. I could write about the draft process, I could write about certain days or about certain interactions with different people. … It’s supposed to flow. If it’s not flowing, you’re forcing it. If you’re forcing it, then your creativity is gone and you shouldn’t be writing.

SI: I’m sure your dad has given you plenty of advice, but is there something you often remember as you begin this journey with the Chargers in the NFL?

BR: I would have to say just how he gets in and out of routes. I’ve leaned on him to really understand how to create separation at such a high level consistently. 

Gilberto Manzano