Never mind that Portal (GA) standout Theo Rich will be able to continue his football career at NC State next season. The unheralded defensive end is simply thankful that he’s able to play any level of football after a seemingly innocuous sinus infection nearly ended his career before it ever really got started.
For most people, a simple sinus infection is nothing more than a minor nuisance that resolves itself within a week or so. For Rich, it became something much more sinister. The infection led to terrible headaches that only grew worse with time and ultimately forced Rich into the hospital.
“I had got fluid on my brain from the sinus infection so I ended up having to be hospitalized because of that,” Rich told Pack Pride recently. “I was in the hospital for about three or four weeks. I ended up not playing football my sophomore or junior year and that was tough.”
Always active in basketball and football, being sidelined from the game he loved was a tough pill for Rich to swallow. Prior to his senior season, he made up his mind that he wanted to give the game one more shot. However, doing so meant uprooting from his home school of Statesboro and transferring to nearby Portal High School.
“I had always wanted to come back but I just didn’t know if I would be able to play. But I made up my mind sometime last year that I wanted to come back but the coach at my other school didn’t want to let me play. So, I talked to one of my friend’s dad to help get me to come to Portal so I transferred here. I can tell you it felt good to get back out on the field again.”
Although Portal struggled to a 1-9 record this year, it didn’t take long for Rich get back in the swing of things and display college-caliber potential. Because he played at a small school with a terrible record, he was largely overlooked although a few schools did take notice.
NC State head coach Tom O’Brien and his staff have a long track record of taking the unbeaten path when it comes to recruiting and landing players other schools bypass. The Pack caught wind of Rich back in September and followed him throughout his senior season. Two weeks ago they decided they had seen enough to pull the trigger on a scholarship offer. Late last week Rich made his pledge to the Wolfpack.
“State had been recruiting me for about two months,” said Rich. “Coach Bridge has been recruiting me and he likes me at defensive end or linebacker. I haven’t been able to go to the campus yet but I’ve been researching them on the computer and I saw that I can get a degree there and be ready for life after football. When I told coach Bridge I was committing, he was excited about it. He was telling me how I’m going to have to learn the wolf howl.
“Coach was just asking me in the beginning why I hadn’t been playing football and why I came back to it. He was telling me how good I would fit in with the personnel at NC State. I was planning to come up for a visit for the Clemson game but I’ll probably just wait to go on an official visit after my SAT scores come back.”
For a young man unsure of whether he’d ever again be able to play the game he loves, Rich came a relative long distance in a short period of time. He now looks forward to taking his game from tiny Portal High School, all the way to the national stage in Raleigh, NC.
“I feel good about playing for State because it’s the ACC. Most of their games are on TV and you can’t get any better than that.”