Family ties link a small group of NFL combine invitees to famous football fathers


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Joe Alt had the perfect role model.

He grew up in Minnesota, became a big-time recruit and joined a major college football program. He made the same seamless transition from tight end to dominant left tackle. And now, he could be eight weeks away from becoming a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

Just like his father.

Former NFL player Jerry Rice watches a ball on the field at the NFL football scouting combine, Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Former NFL player Jerry Rice watches a ball on the field at the NFL football scouting combine, Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Sure, the All-American from Notre Dame seems to be following the same blueprint his father, John, used to carve out during a 13-year NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs.

“One of the things he always taught me at a very young age was to refuse to lose and how to approach things, no matter what you do,” Alt said Saturday at the league’s annual scouting combine in Indianapolis. “If that means jumping and giving one last push, you can’t let that guy beat you and get to the ball.”

Defenders certainly couldn’t get the upper hand on Alt much over the past three seasons. And even in Indianapolis, a dozen football sons seem destined to follower their dear old dads into pro football.

This year’s draft class includes some recognizable juniors such as receiver Marvin Harrison of Ohio State, linebacker Jeremiah Trotter of Clemson and running back Frank Gore of Southern Mississippi. Receivers Brenden Rice of Southern California and Luke McCaffrey of Rice want to add to the family lineage of their Super Bowl champion fathers, Jerry Rice and Ed McCaffrey.

Heck, defensive tackle Jonah Elliss of Utah even played at the same school and donned the same jersey number worn by Luther Elliss (83) all those years ago.

“It was cool,” the soon-to-be rookie Elliss said. “To be honest, when they asked me what number I wanted, I was like, ‘Oh, do you guys have single digits?’ They were like, ‘No.’ I said, ‘You can give me whatever then, I really don’t care what number.’ They were like, ‘Hey, your dad’s number is open.’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ It was awesome.”

In some cases, these combine invitees are spitting images of players once by embraced by legions of fans.

Harrison’s Hall of Fame father let his play do most of the talking during his 13-year career with the Indianapolis Colts. Harrison Jr. didn’t speak to reporters at all on Friday and didn’t work out on Saturday.

McCaffrey used his workout to show scouts he could run and catch as well his All-Pro brother, Christian.

And while the 5-foot-8, 201-pound Gore Jr. checked in 1 inch shorter and 11 pounds lighter than his namesake, junior’s demeanor was like a carbon copy of the former third-round pick who wound up rushing for 16,000 career yards and could be headed to the Hall of Fame.

In other cases, the comparisons are more complicated.

While Trotter Jr. currently is projected to be a third-round pick, matching his father’s draft spot, he’s expected to play edge rusher. The elder Trotter was a four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles.

“The way he described my game and the way I like to describe my game is that I’m an old-style mindset linebacker in a new-age body,” Trotter Jr. said. “He says I’m more athletic than him, but we have different playing styles, different body types and I feel like I’ve got a lot of capability beyond linebacker.”

Each player has two things in common — the stories and the reactions to their surnames. Those are the family ties that bring this group together.

“It has its benefits, and it has some minuses, but honestly, it’s just a blessing to have that last name and know people expect so much of you,” Brenden Rice said. “I got to take away the work ethic from him and day in and day out, I’ve got to put my best foot forward.”

But each also wants to create his own niche, his own NFL chapter.

While they know it won’t be easy, their upbringing has given them an inside look at what’s needed to excel at football’s highest level, and in the case of Gore Jr., an appreciation of a team executive’s evaluation process.

“I’m going to set a higher bar for Frank Gore,” he said, acknowledging he and his father have spent some time together this week in Indy.

Alt understands this dynamic better than most. As a college freshman, he was one of five legacy players on Notre Dame’s roster along with Howard Cross III (Howard Cross), Houston Griffith (Howard Griffith), Lorenzo Styles Jr. (Lorenzo Styles) and Rocco Spindler (Marc Spindler). So being in this environment is no big deal.

All Gore wants to do is be himself and let everyone else worry about who’s better.

“Outside of football, I’ve always been competitive — board games, stuff like that,” he said. “I have a bunch of older brothers, brothers-in-law. It’s been stuff in the backyard, playing corn hole, stuff like that, spike ball. We’ve always been competitive. It’s been like that in the family since I was a kid.”