Fans leaning over the railing at StubHub Center on Saturday recognized the face of the running back and pleaded for an autograph.
Three-time Pro Bowler Ray Rice was not in uniform — he was a coach for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl — but he smiled and happily obliged the fans’ requests before warmups began.
“I hope you get back in the league,” one yelled after him. “You got railroaded.”
Rice, who turned 29 on Friday, has not played in the NFL since the 2013 season. He was indefinitely suspended in September 2014 and then cut by the Baltimore Ravens after the release of video that showed him punching then-fiancée Janay Palmer and dragging her out of an elevator in Atlantic City, N.J.
Rice married Palmer in March 2014. He won an appeal of his NFL suspension in court in December 2014 and was reinstated, but no team has signed him.
Rice was part of National Team Coach Mike Martz’s staff at the Collegiate Bowl, which offers draft-eligible players a chance to work out and play in front of pro scouts as part of the process leading up to the NFL draft. National defeated American, 18-17.
Rice said he had enjoyed the week working with young players.
“It’s been a great experience from the coaching side of it,” he told The Times during a brief pregame interview. “It felt great to pick up some Xs and O’s, but when I got with the kids it really felt at home for me. Natural.”
Rice, who played at Rutgers, rushed for 6,180 yards and scored 43 touchdowns in six seasons with the Ravens and helped them win the Super Bowl in the 2012 season.
“It was just a total process of total rehabilitation,” he said, “making sure that I was going to be able to take care of myself to be in the best position to take care of my family.
“So on the outside looking in it might have been that it looked difficult, but for me it was mind, body, spirit and taking care of things I needed to take care of in life, so it was a humbling experience.”
Rice said he remains “very hopeful” about playing again in the NFL.
“I always said I wanted to finish something the way I started on the field, so a lot of those situations are out of my control, but I’m not giving up,” he said.
“I’m going to keep helping kids and helping out the next generation of football players to understand the severity of my actions, but at the same time I’m going to keep my body, and keep myself focused and be hopeful for a second chance.”
Is he optimistic he will receive one?
“I know what’s in my control,” he said. “My control is being in shape, being ready. I don’t think it’s a question of whether I can play. It’s just a question of whether I’ll get the chance.”
“He totally deserves a second chance,” said Jordan Bivinik of Los Angeles. “Everybody else seems to get one.”
Geoff Upcraft of Santa Ana agreed.
“They’re making an example of him,” he said. “Everyone makes a mistake. You can’t just say you’re done for.”
Running back Remound Wright said after the game that he modeled his playing style after Rice, who did not shy from sharing off-the-field lessons with players.
“Every day, at dinner, lunch, breakfast,” said Wright, who played at Stanford. “He was on a panel one night at the meetings. He was willing to spread wisdom to anyone that would listen.”
Running back Travis Greene, who played at Bowling Green, said Rice “was giving us great pointers left and right” on and off the field.
“He told us about making mistakes,” Greene said, “and rebounding off that and doing the next right thing.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein