His agent also represented Cardinals’ coach Ken Whisenhunt, and although Arizona hadn’t shown interest, a connection was made and Rich felt good about signing with Arizona. The move also allowed him to reunite with his friend and former teammate, Max Hall.
“I had a great opportunity there because they hadn’t drafted any safeties and they had some veterans on the team. There was a definite chance for me to make the roster,” Rich said. “I was around good people. There were players to learn from. My mentality was, do what I can in the defensive scheme and take advantage of special teams. I knew that would be my ticket.”
Rich the rookie was thrilled to arrive at training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz. It didn’t take him long to realize he was not in Provo anymore.
Due to the lockout, he was already behind in absorbing the defensive schemes, a critical duty for any safety. Add to that the fact that professional football is an intense, competitive and ruthless business where a player can have a bad practice and be cut the next day. Why should an older teammate help a newcomer that is trying to take his job, Rich asked.
“At BYU, the freshmen came in and I would try to help them learn the position and the defense,” Rich said. “(In the NFL) it was dog-eat-dog. Guys didn’t openly reject me, but they weren’t saying, ‘Hey, let me teach you how to do this.’ I felt alone out there.”
In addition to learning the defense, Rich wasn’t 100-percent healthy. Camp wasn’t too demanding physically, but he was still healing from a leg injury received in the New Mexico Bowl. It wasn’t improving as fast as he had hoped, but “that was just football” and he didn’t use it as an excuse.
“It’s not in my DNA to patty-cake around,” Rich said.
Undaunted, Rich did his best to digest the defensive playbook and display his tenacious form in practice and scrimmages. He was consistently running with the second team, and making the roster was a real possibility.
Hall, a second-year quarterback, said the coaches noticed Rich and liked his style.
“Coach Whisenhunt told me ‘Your BYU boy is doing well. We like him over there.’ Other players, generally speaking, receivers, tight ends, said they thought he was pretty good,” said Hall, now a student assistant coach at BYU. “Andrew was a player who was around the ball a lot, assignment sound, always making plays. It was a noticeable thing.”
The positive feedback was appreciated, but Rich couldn’t shake the feeling that something about the situation wasn’t right.
“I got down there; I competed; I played well. I felt the coaches liked me and were happy I was there,” Rich said. “But as time went by, I just never felt 100 percent that it was what I was supposed to be doing. I never felt right about it on a spiritual level.”
Rich expressed his uneasiness about the NFL lifestyle to his wife, Kimberly, and his father, Dan, who played football for Weber State and the USFL’s L.A. Express. His father advised him to stick it out. He didn’t understand his son's concern, Rich said.
“It wasn’t that it was too hard,” Rich said. “I feel like I know the difference between a hot refiner’s fire, and maybe choosing something else. I feel like I could have been successful. ... I just never felt comfortable there.”
One night after a film session, Rich was resting on his bed, reading the Book of Mormon, when he realized a powerful truth that led him to give up football.
“I felt like I was kind of missing the picture,” Rich said. “I realized it doesn’t matter if I play football. What matters is that I serve my Heavenly Father, and that needs to be the root of every decision.”
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