(Editor's note: This story originally published on May 13, 2019.)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Mississippi native A.J. Brown flew to the Bay Area before the draft, he didn't just meet with San Francisco 49ers brass -- he got to meet a Hall of Famer who grew up not far from Brown's hometown of Starkville.
Jerry Rice, the wide receiver who redefined the position as a perennial MVP candidate in the 1980s and '90s, is from Crawford, Mississippi. That's just a 30-minute drive from Starkville, where Brown -- the wide receiver the Tennessee Titans selected at No. 51 in the second round -- was a high school star.
Brown often mentions current pro receivers such as Julio Jones as players he modeled his game after, but he has no hesitation pointing out that Rice is the greatest of all time.
"I watched Jerry Rice. I go on YouTube and watch his routes. Even though he played back then, he still offers things that I can put in my toolbox," Brown said after the Titans' second rookie minicamp practice. "We're from the same area, Oktibbeha County. We connected. That's the GOAT. My people got in touch with him, and he was down from there."
Rice took Brown on the infamous horse trail at Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve in Redwood City. The trail is known as one of Rice's primary training grounds.
"When I got drafted by San Francisco, I thought about Mississippi," Rice said during the run via a video on NFL.com. "I said if I have success in the NFL, that will open the door for so many other guys. Look at your opportunity right now. You're getting ready to live your dream."
In the video, Rice emphasized the endurance benefits he reaped from running the hill, crediting it for his ability to excel in the fourth quarter and function at his best despite being tired during his career.
If getting to work out with the greatest wide receiver ever wasn't enough, Brown even got the opportunity to wear Rice's Hall of Fame ring and his three Super Bowl rings.
Rice is proud to see another wideout make it to the NFL from the 662 area code.
"He's from my hometown and represents it the way I did," Rice said of Brown. "This kid has an amazing work ethic. I am so glad I got to spend time with him and can’t wait to watch him do work," Rice said on Instagram after running the hill with Brown.