Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Austin Rich attends the University of Utah and is a proud member of the Mighty Utah Student Section. He likes to paint himself red for the games and scream himself hoarse.
He'll be entrenched in the MUSS Saturday afternoon when arch-rival BYU visits Rice-Eccles Stadium, but he's harboring a not-so-well-kept secret.
"I've been to more BYU games this year than U. games, which is quite a shocker," Rich said. "I try to keep it as quiet as I possibly can. I get made fun of quite a bit by all my friends here at the U. I try to be as crazy as I can be to make up for the games that I miss. It's definitely not looked at too favorably in the MUSS."
Austin Rich is the younger brother of BYU senior safety, and team captain, Andrew Rich. And now, he's feeling torn about the game.
"At the start of the year, I was not conflicted at all. I was Utes all the way," Austin said. "I've always been loyal to Andrew, but I'm also loyal to where I go to school. I've got to meet the BYU players, and (coach) Bronco (Mendenhall). He's treated my family so well. It's kind of hard to root against the guys who have treated you so well. I haven't met many of the Utah players or formed those special bonds that I have lately with some of the BYU players."
Then, he quickly added, "But I still bleed red."
Austin Rich's feelings about BYU have softened in large part because of the Cougars' struggles. BYU started the season 1-4 and he watched Andrew, as a team leader, work overtime to turn things around. The Cougars have won four consecutive games and are bowl-eligible.
"Lately, seeing him take over that team, now, more than ever, I couldn't be more proud of him," Austin said. "I think we're closer now than we've ever been, believe it or not. It's been fun to see him take on that role."
Andrew Rich deeply appreciates his brother's support.
"He's been my No. 1 fan. He'll be in the MUSS (Saturday). He wants me to succeed and see me happy and win. But he goes to the University of Utah," Andrew said. "He's just excited for a good game. He recognizes that it's just a game. At the beginning of my career, it was really, really hard for him to see me at BYU. He had to decide who he was going to side with. But with him seeing me and my team struggle this year, he's learned a lot. He's got a lot of respect for guys on the team and for coach Mendenhall. He's grown to respect the program, to see what it's made of. I would say his loyalty has definitely changed and he might even wear blue when he goes to sleep at night. I wouldn't be surprised."
When told about his brother's comment about wearing blue, Austin laughed.
"I don't think I own one blue thing in my house. The only blue thing is maybe a pair of jeans. That's about it," he said. "He tried to give me a couple of BYU shirts. He's given my family a bunch of BYU shirts. I sadly watched my sister, who graduated from the U., try one on one time. Magically, she'd start wearing it to the games. It's been funny to watch. I'm the only one still clinging to red."
The story of Andrew and Austin Rich is really one of a sibling rivalry magnified. As kids growing up in Ogden, Austin was a Utah fan and Andrew cheered for BYU — their father, Dan, graduated from Weber State.
"We've always loved each other," Austin said. "I think that's probably 90 percent of the reason I always wanted the U., because he and I were pretty big rivals growing up."
Through it all, Austin has learned a valuable lesson that he'd like to share with fans of both teams that puts the rivalry in perspective. Austin knows former BYU quarterback Max Hall and has golfed with him. He's gotten to know many other Cougars.
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