One last cheer for Andrew Rich

As Cougar safety Andrew Rich walks off the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium for the last time on Saturday, he'll be leaving behind a lot of fond memories. The Cougar captain and star defender has sacrificed and been through a lot over the past several years, and he wouldn't trade it for any other college experience.

While at Snow College, Andrew Rich turned down scholarship offers from Cal and Boise State, instead choosing to receive a preferred walk-on spot at BYU after Coach Mendenhall promised him that he would get a scholarship down the road. It was a leap of faith, but the decision to come to BYU led to much more than the promised scholarship.

"This experience has been everything to me," Rich said. "It's been everything that I've dreamt it to be. I know that sounds so cliché, but really my experience here has been life changing."

After seeing action in all 13 games his first year at BYU as a sophomore, Rich was an Academic All-MWC selection. His junior year he was selected to the All-MWC Second-Team and was also an Academic All-MWC performer. But it wasn't just on the football field where Rich excelled, and his decision to come to BYU has changed his life.

"I met my wife Kimberly here and I've learned lessons and principles and things that I feel I couldn't have learned elsewhere," he said. "The people that I've met and the relationships that I've built were meant to be, so to speak. When I first committed to BYU, I was 100 percent sure that it was the right decision, and now looking back I know [it] was the 100 percent right decision for me and for my future family."

As a Cougar safety and member of the Band of Brothers, Rich has been through a lot of adversity over the past several of years. He's had his own personal ups and downs and has battled back from nagging injuries. He was a part of the teams that went 10-3 his sophomore year and 11-2 his junior year, and then this year's team that started out 1-4. But despite the slow start this season, Rich still wouldn't trade being at BYU for any other team in the country.

"It's funny because I really appreciate the times that we lost, because first of all you learn a lot about yourself, who you are and if you're going to keep fighting or throw in the towel. Second, you also learn who is also going to fight with you. I've learned a lot about the character of this team and the guys on this team who are willing to stick with it and willing to declare if they're going to win or not. Obviously, there are some that don't want to pull their weight, and that's okay, we'll go on without them. But I'll tell you what, those that do are still here and still working, and man, it's fun being around these guys."

After starting out 1-4, the Cougars have now won four of their last five games. Rich has seen a young team turn around a losing season into what could be a bowl eligible team with a win against New Mexico on Saturday.

"It's something that before this season I never thought about trying to become bowl eligible," Rich said. "You know, once you lose four straight games and you struggle and struggle and struggle, you appreciate each win. It makes you really appreciate the program and all the hard work [from] the guys that came before to make it what it is.

"There's a lot that goes into winning, and I think that when you're a 10-win-season team every year, you take for granted those wins. Just winning six games to be bowl eligible is a big accomplishment for this team from where we were a few weeks ago. I'm definitely looking forward to playing and we have a tough game on our hands, and New Mexico isn't going to give it to us, so we're going to have to earn it and win the game."

During his three years at BYU, LaVell Edwards Stadium has become a special place for Rich.

"The memories and all the things that happened there for me from when I started playing, all the great games and players I played with to now, [have] definitely made it a sacred place for me in my heart," said a somber Rich. "I've made some of the best memories in my life being out there with my friends and teammates. It definitely holds a special place in my heart."

Saturday will mark the last time Rich will run out of the tunnel at LaVell Edwards Stadium in front of the home crowd.

"Yeah, I think it will sink a little more right when we run out of the tunnel," Rich said. "I just want it to end the right way, you know. We've worked so hard this whole season and we've had some ups and downs and some tough times. It's been some of the toughest times of my football career, and I think that we've worked in a way that it's going to work out in a positive way. We play a very capable New Mexico team, but I think this week it's more so about looking at us and playing the best football that we can play.

"You know, you never think there's an end when you're in the heat of it all. It's kind of like when you're on your mission and you never feel like you're going to go home sort of thing. Now that it's almost time to say goodbye, it's one of the hardest transitions you'll ever have to make. It's obviously going to be a very difficult thing for me to swallow the fact knowing that this will be the last time that I'll ever be on our home field with the guys I love and trust. I'm sure it will be an emotional time for a lot of us."

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