Andrew Rich wasn’t going back.
Coming off an August weekend in 2011, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound safety was expected to report back to the Arizona Cardinals’ training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz. The hard-hitting ball hawk was an undrafted free agent, yet he knew he had a good shot to make the roster as a backup or special teams player.
Instead, Rich boarded an airplane with his wife and flew home to Utah, officially ending his NFL career before it even began.
A year later, the former BYU star is a social media salesman while he contemplates graduate school. Giving up football not only restored his health, but it allowed Rich to offer much needed love and support when the couple’s son was born with heart problems.
“Every kid growing up wants to play in the NFL, and I was one of them,” Rich said. “I took the opportunity because it was there but my heart wasn’t there. I have no regrets. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made because I felt I did what was best for me in that circumstance.”
Earning a shot at the NFL was not easy for Rich.
He was Bonneville High’s defensive MVP and an all-state selection, but was not offered a football scholarship.
He served a Spanish-speaking mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Portland, Ore., and then returned for a memorable season at Snow College in 2007. While leading the team in tackles (120) and interceptions (5), Rich helped the Badgers to the NJCAA national championship game and an 11-1 record.
This time the Ogden native received offers from Boise State and California, but he declined both and accepted preferred walk-on status at BYU with a shot at a future scholarship.
The Cougars were fortunate to get Rich. He started 29 games over his career and became known for his bone-crushing hits, playmaking abilities and leadership skills. As a senior, he was named a team captain, led the team in tackles (110), interceptions (5), pass breakups (8) and forced fumbles (3). He earned All-Mountain West Conference honors and finished his career as the New Mexico Bowl defensive MVP.
BYU radio play-by-play voice Greg Wrubell wrote that Rich was “one of the toughest, best Cougar defenders we’ve ever seen.”
“I was watching a BYUtv replay of the 2009 win over Oklahoma, and Rich made so many plays in that game, throwing his body around and wreaking havoc on the Sooners,” Wrubell wrote in 2011. “That’s how Andrew played, with disciplined abandon — seeming always in the right place to make a play, often a hard-hitting play — the perfect Kat (safety) in Bronco Mendenhall’s system.”
Mendenhall, BYU’s head football coach, did not hesitate to call Rich one of the three best safeties he has ever coached, joining the company of NFL star Brian Urlacher and former Cougar Aaron Francisco.
“Each have unique characteristics, but no one is tougher than Andrew, there’s no one that is more committed,” Mendenhall said in 2010. “To show you how smart I am, I rejected him twice — once out of high school and once out of junior college because I didn’t think he was fast enough or big enough. What I couldn’t see, what I didn’t know about him, was who he was inside.”
In spite of his college success, Rich went unpicked in the 2011 NFL draft and waited through an offseason lockout.
When free agency finally opened up in July, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis and Philadelphia’s Andy Reid called, but Rich surprised them by going to Arizona.
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