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Sons of former NFL stars ready to carve their path into pros

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Southern California wide receiver Brenden Rice runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine on March 2.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Southern California wide receiver Brenden Rice runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine on March 2.

Jeremiah Trotter Jr. wears his dad’s No. 54, plays the same position and celebrates sacks and big tackles with the same signature axe swing.

Now, he’s ready to make a name for himself in the NFL. So are several top prospects who play the same positions their fathers played in the league. They’ll find out where they’re going when the NFL draft kicks off next week in Detroit.

“I’ve never been the type to shy away from being the son of Jeremiah Trotter,” Trotter Jr. said. “I appreciate him. He’s always taught me a lot at the position and really helped me to get to this point today.”

Jeremiah Trotter was a four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker who had three stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and also played for Washington and Tampa Bay during an 11-year career.

His son was a finalist last year at Clemson for the Dick Butkus Award given to the best linebacker in the nation. Trotter Jr. is projected to be drafted as high as the second round and some draft analysts believe only his size — he’s 6-foot and 238 pounds — is keeping him out of the first round.

“I think I’m a very well-rounded player,” Trotter Jr. said. “I’m a three-down linebacker, which is really important in today’s age with the game being played more out in space. I feel like God blessed me with the ability to be able to cover, blitz, and be effective in the run game. So it’s being effective in all three phases of the game, all three levels of the defense and going out there and having command of the defense as well. Since I play middle linebacker, that’s definitely important at the next level.”

Marvin Harrison Jr., Joe Alt, Frank Gore Jr., Brenden Rice, Luke McCaffrey, Kris Jenkins and Jonah Elliss are also turning this NFL draft into a family affair.

Harrison Jr. and Rice both are wide receivers like their Hall of Fame dads. Harrison Jr. excelled at Ohio State and is expected to go in the top five. Rice, who caught passes from projected No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams at USC, is viewed as a mid-rounder. His father, Jerry Rice, is known as the GOAT — the greatest wide receiver of all-time. No player in NFL history has more receptions, yards receiving or touchdown catches than Jerry Rice.

“The standard is ridiculous so you can see what you’re expecting from me,” Brenden Rice said of following his dad’s footsteps.

Frank Gore was a five-time Pro Bowl running back for San Francisco before playing for Indianapolis, Miami, Buffalo and the Jets. His 16,000 rushing yards are third in NFL history.

His son embraces the pressure of following his path.

“It’s a blessing and it’s an opportunity,” said Gore Jr., who played at Southern Mississippi and set an NCAA bowl record with 329 yards in the 2022 Lending Tree Bowl. “I’m not going to shy away from my name. I am who I am. It’s a blessing to have this name. He had this name, he made it what it is. Now, I have the responsibility to take it further.”

Joe Alt’s dad, John Alt, was a two-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle during a 13-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs. The younger Alt, an All-American at Notre Dame, is considered the best left tackle in a draft stacked with talented offensive linemen. He’s projected to be a top-10 pick.

Luke McCaffrey, a wideout from Rice, has strong bloodlines. His dad, Ed McCaffrey, made a Pro Bowl and won three Super Bowls with San Francisco and Denver. His older brother, Christian McCaffrey, was the 2023 AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Luke McCaffrey is considered a mid-round pick.

Kris Jenkins was a two-time All-Pro defensive tackle during 10 seasons with Carolina and the New York Jets. His son was an All-American and team captain for national champion Michigan as a senior. The younger Jenkins is considered a Day 2 choice.

Elliss wore No. 83 at Utah just like his dad, Luther Elliss, did in the early 1990s. He’s viewed as one of the top seven edge rushers in a draft loaded with players at that spot.

Texas wide receiver Jordan Whittington, Missouri offensive lineman Javon Foster, Michigan offensive lineman Drake Nugent and Michigan defensive lineman Jaylen Harrell also are sons of former NFL players.

Having grown up with a dad in the league gives all these prospects different advantages. They’re prepared for the spotlight and they understand the sacrifices it takes to succeed.

“Being a son of an NFL player, you have to mature a lot faster than a normal kid,” Gore Jr. said.

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