College football stars following in the footsteps of NFL dads

The progeny of prodigies will always get our attention. We can’t help but to look at those who have the DNA of an elite-level athlete. It’s like they’ve been given super serum, grafted their bones with adamantium, were bitten by a rogue Alchemax spider and drank the heart-shaped herb.

When someone reaches the high, athletic watermark set by one or both of their biological parents, I don’t think there’s much we love more.

Combine nepotism with natural ability, access to an environment built for the scion to soar, and enough work ethic and desire to be great, and you’ve got a special talent. 

Here are nine current college football standouts who are following in the footsteps of their dads.

Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State

How do you tell me you’re WR1 without telling me you’re WR1? You say, “My name is Marvin Harrison.”

Harrison Jr. is the best wide receiver in college football and is widely expected to be a top-five pick in next year’s NFL draft. The talented Buckeye pass-catcher caught 77 passes for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns while leading Ohio State to the College Football Playoff last season.

His father, former Indianapolis Colts standout Marvin Harrison Sr., is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He played 13 NFL seasons, all with the Colts, and hauled in 1,102 passes for 14,580 yards and 128 receiving touchdowns. He led the NFL in receiving yards and touchdowns during the 2002 campaign, and was selected first- or second-team All-Pro on eight separate occasions. Harrison ranks fifth all-time in receptions.

Shedeur Sanders, QB, Colorado

His daddy is Prime. If that doesn’t put the rub on your brisket, you’re at the wrong barbecue pit.

It doesn’t get said enough: Shedeur was born in Tyler, Texas. Nothing soft is coming out of Tyler, Texas.

In two seasons at Jackson State, Sanders threw for 6,963 yards and 70 touchdowns, while also completing 68.4% of his passes. He is the only player in the history of the sport to win the Jerry Rice Award as the most outstanding freshman in the FCS — the first player from an HBCU to win the award — and the Deacon Jones Trophy, awarded to the nation’s best HBCU player.

Sons of NFL Greats Making Their Mark in CFB

FOX Sports’ RJ Young looks at college football standouts who are following in the footsteps of their dads.

Frank Gore Jr., RB, Southern Miss

Frank Gore Sr. was a 2001 national champion with the Miami Hurricanes. He enjoyed a dominant 16-year NFL career, which included five Pro Bowl selections.

Meanwhile, his son, Frank Gore, Jr., led Southern Miss in rushing yards for the second-straight year with 801 yards on 179 carries while averaging 4.5 yard per clip. He has put up 2,891 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns in three seasons at Southern Miss.

Brenden Rice, WR, USC

His daddy is Jerry Rice. If that doesn’t cook your ramen, son, you’re at the wrong soup kitchen.

In three years — two at Colorado and one at USC — Brenden has caught 66 passes for 1,030 yards (15.6 avg) with nine TDs. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound pass-catcher had a breakout season last year for the Trojans, totaling 39 catches for 611 yards and four scores.

With Caleb Williams back under center, expect an even bigger season for Brennan in 2023.

Cristian Driver, ATH, Penn State

He is the son of Super Bowl champion and five-time Pro Bowl selection Donald Driver.

Cristian’s current head coach at Penn State, James Franklin, was Donald’s wide receivers coach in Green Bay back in 2005. The older Driver played college football at Alcorn State, and until Shaq Leonard entered the league in 2018, Donald carried HBCU football on his back.

Christian, who redshirted in 2022, played high school ball for Jason Witten at Liberty Christian in Flower Mound, Texas, where he went both ways and won the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) long jump state title in Division 6A.

Antonio Gates Jr., WR, Michigan State

Antonio Gates Sr. was a three-time first-team All-Pro. Before Baker Mayfield went from walk-on to Heisman, Gates Sr. went from Joe to Pro, being an undrafted free agent out of Kent State who developed into an All-Pro. The former Chargers standout caught more TDs than any other tight end in NFL history with 116.

Meanwhile, his son, Antonio Gates Jr., redshirted in 2022.  Coming out of Detroit’s Fordson High, Gates, Jr. caught 55 passes for 925 yards and 16 touchdowns, notched two INTs, including one returned for a touchdown, and nine pass breakups on defense as a senior.

Gates Jr. is expected to play a larger role for the Spartans this season, especially with the departure of Keon Coleman.

Mason Taylor, TE, LSU

He is the son of 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and three-time first-team All-Pro Jason Taylor, and the nephew to Zach Thomas and Joy Taylor

Mason is expected to play a big role in LSU’s offense in 2023 after catching 38 passes for 414 yards with three TDs in 14 games last season. He caught the game-winning two-point conversion in LSU’s win against Alabama last year as a true freshman.

Christian Harrison, DB, Tennessee

Harrison’s father is two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Pro Bowl selection Rodney Harrison. The former New England Patriot great has the most sacks by a safety in NFL history with 30.5, and holds the record for tackles made in Super Bowl history with 33.

Coming out of Woodward Academy in Atlanta, Christian was a top-50 player in the state. He picked off five passes and forced two fumbles as a senior.

E.J. Smith, RB, Stanford

E.J. Smith is the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame RB Emmitt Smith, who is considered one of the top running backs in NFL history. Emmitt played 15 seasons in the NFL, primarily with the Dallas Cowboys, and is at the top of the NFL’s all-time rushing list with 18,355 yards and 164 rushing touchdowns.

E.J.’s first carry of the 2022 season was an 87-yard TD run. He looked to be on pace for a breakout campaign before suffering a season-ending injury in Stanford’s second game of the season last year. He rushed for 206 yards and three TDs in two games before the injury.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The Number One College Football Show” on YouTube.

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