- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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This isn't exactly how Jerry Rice Jr. envisioned he would crack the UCLA lineup, but an opportunity is an opportunity and Rice plans on making the most of his Saturday when the son of the Hall of Fame receiver is expected to make his collegiate debut against California.
Rice, a redshirt sophomore walk-on, has spent the last 2 1/2 seasons with the scout team but could be forced into duty this week because four UCLA receivers have been suspended for their actions during a bench-clearing brawl at Arizona last Thursday.
"I'm very excited, but also very nervous and anxious," Rice said. "I've been waiting for a long time for a chance to play and hopefully I can do something with it."
Coach Rick Neuheisel wouldn't commit to a number of plays he expects Rice to play, but it's almost a given that he will play under the circumstances. Taylor Embree, Shaquelle Evans, Ricky Marvray and Randall Carroll all must sit out one game, leaving Nelson Rosario and Josh Smith as the only receivers with significant experience available for Saturday's game.
Rosario and Smith are expected to get the lion's share of snaps. Jerry Johnson, who played sparingly last season before breaking his ankle, is expected to make his season debut this week. F-back Anthony Barr is trying to rush back from knee surgery to help pick up some slack, and running back Jordon James and tight end Joe Fauria will also split out wide. But in all likelihood, Rice will be in the mix in some fashion.
"He just needs an opportunity and now he’s got one and we’ll see how he does," Neuheisel said. "I’m excited to watch him."
Rice (5-foot-10, 182 pounds) is a consistently hard worker for the scout team and usually is assigned the role of the opponent's top receiver each week. He has good hands and excellent instincts and, although a bit undersized, he's shown enough potential that Neuheisel will put him on scholarship starting next quarter.
Now, he's finally facing the prospect of playing time, and the next item on his agenda will be to figure out a way to avoid getting sent back to the scout team, a destination to which he is almost assuredly heading once the suspended receivers return.
"I've been fighting for a chance since I got here and I'm going to keep fighting," Rice said. "All I ever wanted was to get on the field and hopefully I can stay there."