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In His Words: Chris Rowland
'When you look in the record books, my name is right there above [Jerry Rice's]. I will always pay my respects. He set the bar high.'
By Chris Rowland Aug 07, 2020
Photographs By The Associated Press and Atlanta Falcons

I didn't even know about the record until after the game.

My coach came and shook my hand and said congrats. I was like, "What?"

He said, "You broke the HBCU single-season receptions record."

I was like, "Really? Who was it held by?" and he said, "Jerry Rice."


I've always had a chip on my shoulder.

I'm 5-foot-7. I don't meet the "eye test" criteria.

I started playing football when I was 5 years old. I have two older brothers, so they're the reasons why I wanted to play at such a young age.

Seeing them grow up and play, it was like, "Man, I want to play too. I can't be the only one in the house not playing."

My middle brother, Seth, was on the first team I played on. He's about a year older than me. I played with him all the way up to college. He was a running back at Tennessee State with me.

My brothers were probably the biggest reasons why I got started playing football. Just setting the example, being role models for me and showing me how to play the game while respecting it at the same time.

My recruiting process was really tough. I only had four total offers. I had two D-II schools.

The schools that offered me were Austin Peay and Tennessee State. My whole family went to Tennessee State, so it was a no-brainer going there. I really had no choice.

Growing up, my mom used to take me to the TSU homecoming parade, and I'd always be like, "Man, I'm going to TSU."

Attending an HBCU is not everybody's first choice, but I couldn't be more grateful for the experience I had.


The NFL has always been a dream of mine. Growing up and going to NFL games, it's one of those things that I've always wanted to do.

I think I had the realization of "I can do this" after my junior season of college. My coaches sat me down and told me, "If you lock down on all things and really focus, you have a chance to go to the next level."

One of my favorite players to study was Julian Edelman. I watched a sit-down interview with him and noticed how he was talking about the film room, film room, film room, film room.

I was like, man, let me see what this guy is talking about.

I kind of set in and looked. You know, it's crazy, but there's stuff you see on film that you'll see exactly in the game! It was just like taking a test.

I realized after that first game that, wow, why haven't I been doing this the past four years? That's the jump from being a young football player to maturing. I felt like that's what was missing.

There are some things you don't catch until you're a vet. You're older and you mature along the way.

My junior year, I only played eight games. We had four or five cancelled because of the hurricanes.

I don't know what I would've had, but I think I would've had a borderline 1,000-yard season my junior year if I would've gotten to play more than eight games.

I actually took it upon myself this past offseason, the summer of 2019, to really work hard. I spent five-plus hours in the film room each day.

Not just working on my body physically, but also getting the mental part, which is just as important.

The results ended up paying off. Doing that really helped me realize that I could do this.


When you look in the record books, my name is right there above his. I will always pay my respects. He set the bar high. I never would've dreamed or thought I'd get to 100 catches.

Jerry Rice had one of the greatest work ethics in football. In the history of football, period. When it comes to work ethic, there's him, Walter Payton, and Ray Lewis.

Those were the type of guys I always wanted to model my work ethic after. I didn't have the hype or the speed Jerry Rice had, but I know one thing, I can work just as hard as you can.

It's going to produce something. That's what I was always taught. As long as you work hard, you're going to get something out of it.

Low and behold, I was able to accomplish a lot just based off working hard, taking the time in film study and applying it to the game.

It truly is humbling. I'll always end up being mentioned with a great guy like him.

Not just a great football player, but a great person from what I've learned. That's something that I will probably be most proud of. It'll stand forever.

It'll say "Chris Rowland" and then "Jerry Rice." That's something that I will be most proud of and be able to tell stories to my kids about.


I couldn't be more grateful for the experience I had going to an HBCU and meeting great players that come from HBCUs.

I was at the Deacon Jones Trophy presentation where they award the best HBCU football player and I got to meet legends like Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Doug Williams. They all come from HBCUs. Guys like Robert Mathis and Jerry Rice.

That's one thing I didn't initially realize. There's a rich history.

What those guys told me has motivated me a whole lot, just putting it into a whole new gear.

They told me, "Man, we're basically passing the torch to you for the next generation of HBCU players. You can be a bridge for the next generation if you continue to work hard and do what you do."

Coming out, I hope [HBCU football programs] continue to grow, back how it used to be. We must get more involved on the money side. That's one thing that HBCUs kind of suffer from today is not much TV presentation and stuff like that.

There's just not much money into the athletic program. That's something that I hope changes in the future. It starts with guys like me. Making it out and trying to make a difference.

You always want to elevate the guy next to you or the guy coming after you. Especially from Tennessee State, we have a standard when you see some of the guys we've produced.

I hope my name gets mentioned along that line.

You can't stop after me. I always want to help groom the next guy coming up.

It's a lot to live up to. I hope I can. It is really humbling, too. I'm going to always say that.

I couldn't thank God more for the opportunity. My family is very proud, especially being alumni from Tennessee State.


You could say at an early age I always aspired to play in the NFL, but every kid does.

Seeing guys like Steve McNair and Devin Hester, those were my two favorite guys growing up.

Steve McNair came from an HBCU. He was the highest drafted quarterback from an HBCU. He was the third overall pick out of Alcorn State in 1995. He played for the Tennessee Titans and I'm from Tennessee, so he's one of those guys I always got to watch growing up.

One of the ways he approached the game was, he wasn't going to come off that field unless you dragged or carried him off. He was always going to play, no matter how hurt he was. It took more than one guy to bring him down.

That's kind of what I model my game after, even though I'm not a quarterback. That attitude he brought to the game, that's one of the reasons why I looked up to him so much.

Another player I looked up to was Michael Jordan. He's really one of the reasons I wore 23. I wore 23 on up, my early rec ball and through high school.

He has a winning side. Even though he's not a football player, this whole documentary coming out just sheds light into his work ethic and bringing guys along the way.

You can't win by yourself. You have to learn how to elevate other guys. That's what's going to produce winning teams, and that's what he did, was win. That's one of the reasons I looked up to him. He knew how to win.

He learned at first how to be a better player, but then as you go along in your career, you learn how to elevate other players. That's one thing I'm learning too.


I couldn't be more humbled by the opportunity that the Atlanta Falcons organization has granted me to come in and show what I can do.

It's surreal. At the same time, it's still cool.

Julio Jones is a great player, probably the best player in the world at this point. Just being able to learn stuff from him, little hints in the game, I couldn't be more eager and excited.

Guys like him, he's a freak athlete. I'm going to do what I can. I'm going to listen to all the pointers he has.

Guys like Olamide [Zaccheaus], who are also undrafted free agents, I want to hook under those guys and really lean on them because I know they were in my shoes. They know what to expect.

I look for a lot of guidance from guys like him. I've actually been in touch with him a little bit. He's kind of like a big bro now.

The first goal I have is definitely making the 53-man roster.

The second goal is to make an impact, whether that's on special teams or offense. I just want to be a guy that people rely on and can count on.

As a receiver, I feel like I bring a lot of short-area quickness. Being able to get in and out of my cuts. Being that third-down specialist that is so looked for in today's game. That's what I bring to the game as a receiver.

Versatility, that's been my niche that I bring. Being able to score from multiple positions. Whether it's getting the ball in my hands downfield or just at the line of scrimmage, that's something I take pride in, just being a versatile player.

Everybody coming in wants to play their primary position, but I know being an undrafted free agent, my role is obviously going to be special teams, which is my niche.

I've been a special teams warrior the past four years in college. Having a chance to do it at the next level, absolutely. If you think about it this way, I think special teams makes up about 30 percent of the game.

You have 12 plays. If you can't go hard for 12 plays, something is wrong with you. Twelve plays? Just think about it. I can definitely do that, without a doubt.

I don't have any statistical goals yet. I haven't gotten that far, but I think that will develop more down the road. As of right now, it's make the team and be an impactful player.

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