Andrew Rich may just be the latest BYU walk-on to be awarded a scholarship in a program that has divvied out an unusual number the past three seasons under Bronco Mendenhall.
If you shake out the numbers since taking the BYU job, Mendenhall has given 20 scholarships to high school or junior college players who initially walked on his program.
That's an average of more than six per year. Who does that?
Mendenhall told reporters in July he could use as many as six walk-ons this fall, that through spring practice he noticed walk-on talent he thought he could plug in.
Midway through fall camp, Mendenhall's staff has elevated Rich, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound Snow College All-American, to a backup role at both safety positions. He'll be the primary man to come in for Kellen Fowler or David Tafuna.
Rich is undergoing extensive indoctrination for both spots. If Rich goes in for Fowler, he'll have to quarterback the defense.
That's some heavy lifting.
"He had only 15 practices in spring, but really came on with his summer conditioning," said recruiting coordinator Paul Tidwell. "He moves well, runs well, and he's not afraid to get physical. He has the size and ability to help us."
Rich, whose dad Danny was a standout linebacker at Weber State, said he's never wanted to play anywhere but BYU. When Mendenhall told him he'd get a chance when he was at Snow College, he jumped. Bye Cal. See ya, Boise State. "That's all I ever hoped for."
Ding, ding, ding.
That mindset sets off the BYU head man. Rich has four years to play three. He tripped to Cal and the Bears and Broncos tendered offers.
Mendenhall's threshold for awarding a walk-on guy a scholarship is that he break into the two-deep depth chart and have a 3.0 grade-point average. Rich meets those standards. He's impressed observers with his speed, his run and pass coverage, lateral quickness, ability to pick up the defensive schemes and his competitive spirit.
Mendenhall likes the idea Rich, an all-around athletic star who was the league's leading scorer in basketball at Bonneville High, turned down scholarship offers from Cal and Boise State to "get a chance" at one at BYU. "He wants to be here."
Rich could go on scholarship sooner than later. While Mendenhall usually waits until the fall semester ends to award walk-ons with scholarships, he hinted this week he could make a move at the end of two-a-days.
Rich fits the bill.
Who are the other six walk-ons who could make an impact? QB Kurt McEuen looked to qualify as Max Hall's backup in spring, but Brenden Gaskins has taken over backup duties. When fullback Manase Tonga failed academically last spring, that opened the door for freshman Bryan Kariya, a former 5A MPV from Davis High. But redshirt freshman Kaneakua Friel could earn that spot behind Fui Vakapuna.
Of two walk-on deep snappers, sophomores Chris Muehlmann and John Pace have a chance. There are other quality walk-ons in camp including DB Jameson Frazier and Jefferson Court from Alta High.
Under Mendenhall, his staff extensively evaluates prospects they don't have scholarships to reward up front.
It's kind of a trend or an earmark of Mendenhall's regime to go walk-on hunting.
Good or bad move? Well, if you win, it's a no brainer. But if scholarship players get pushed or replaced by walk-ons, there could be issues.
"It will be that way as long as I'm the coach," Mendenhall said. "There just isn't that much difference in our best walk-ons and our scholarship players. What one may lack in terms of size, speed or athletic ability, they make up for it in heart and attitude. So I'd say there might be as many as five or six who could end up playing for us in some role."
But 20 in three seasons?Mendenhall explains: "I haven't heard of a number that close anywhere. I think all that is doing is perpetuating a cycle of other players doing that. All that's being presented is an opportunity, and I like that because it's more of a pure form of motive of why you go to a school."
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