Making The Doubters Believe

(Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

As senior Andrew Rich prepares for a game, he writes three letters on his arm—MDB.

The letters symbolize the six-foot-three safety from Ogden, Utah’s quest to show himself, his peers and the world he can accomplish any goal and “Make Doubters Believers”.

The motto “make doubters believers” started when Rich was in junior high. Rich was on a football team that didn’t expect to win many games, but had a coach that believed in the players. This coach taught them to prove they could do anything they set their minds to and gave them the motto Rich has never forgotten.

“I’ve carried that with me,” Rich said. “I’ve kind of had to earn my way all the way up to where I’m at and there’s been a lot of people along the road that haven’t thought I could do it.”

Rich began his college career at Snow College, tallying 120 tackles and five interceptions for the 2007 season and helping the team reach the NJCAA championship game. But Rich wasn’t satisfied with staying at the junior college level, even with all his successes. He had his eyes fixed on his goal of joining an elite group of athletes who not only played the game, but also conducted themselves according to high standards.

Since he was young, Rich had the dream of playing for the Cougars. BYU upheld values that mirrored Rich’s. The team focused on development of faith, church, family and academics. Football came after these other goals.

“The tradition and the name BYU carries and just being a part of something so unique is awesome,” Rich said. “I remember the first college game I ever went to, I was in fifth or sixth grade. Being in LaVell Edwards Stadium and just listening to the crowd and watching the players, it was an experience I’ll never forget. And from that day on, I’ve always wanted to come here.”

Rich is among 14 athletes on the BYU football team who transferred from another college, including fellow senior and defensive back Brian Logan.

“During the middle of the [2007] season I called some of the coaches and said, ‘Hey, come watch a game,’ and just tried to get them interested in me,” Rich said. “I started to send film out and I got some offers from other schools—some bigger schools I’d had a lot of interest in. The whole time I wanted to come here, but BYU never offered me a scholarship.”

Rich was offered scholarships from prestigious schools such as Boise State and California, but declined all of them.

“I came up and met with coach Mendenhall, hoping he would say, ‘We’ll give you a scholarship,’” Rich recalled. “He told me they didn’t have one for me at the moment, but they would like me to come.”

Each year, BYU has 85 available scholarships for its football athletes. When Rich joined the Cougars, he was one of 32 walk-on players who did not receive a scholarship for the 2008 season.

Some tried to discourage him from making that choice because of the other scholarship offers he would turn down, but with help from those who believed in him, Rich was able to make it through the first year as a Cougar.

Playing in a Pac-10 school like Cal would have given Rich great experience on the field and the luxury of a scholarship. With Boise State, Rich could have played on a team ranked nationally among the top 25 college teams. But Rich chose BYU, a school where he’d be giving time, effort and funds to be in the program, not just receiving benefits.

As BYU seeks national and BCS recognition, the players and coaches are out to make the country believe in a program that demands discipline, respect and conformity of all its members—a program whose participants have worked as hard as any school and still not achieved the recognition they deserve. Rich was just the player to help change the doubters’ minds.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall said Rich’s convictions, his willingness to come to BYU without a scholarship and his eagerness to play made him a “perfect fit” for the team.

“He came off his mission and showed up in my office in his suit and tie and said this was the only place he’s ever wanted to play,” Mendenhall said. “He listed the reasons why and they were the exact same values our program emphasizes. He came in with those already in place.”

Despite not having the scholarship other athletes had, Rich showed he was worthy of being a Cougar by helping his team in all 13 games his sophomore year and starting all 13 games as a junior. In the 2009 season, Rich made 85 tackles, 51 of those solo, and led the team with four interceptions.

“I think Andrew’s belief in himself, in combination with work ethic and principles allow him to do anything he wants to do, regardless of what people think,” Mendenhall said.

Fall semester of his junior year, Rich did receive an athletic scholarship, joining the group of only 29 walk-ons who have received scholarships over the past five years.

Rich carried his motto of making doubters believers to missionary service, giving the phrase a new meaning as he faced a different kind of “doubters”. Serving from 2004 to 2006 for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Portland, Ore., he learned lessons about work and perseverance that would carry into his football career.

“I had to prove to myself I could do it,” Rich said. “Make myself a believer. It was amazing to be able to go out and really understand how little of an influence I have, and rather just to be able to trust in the Lord and receive His strength and everything from Him. It was such a testimony to me and helped me become a believer.”

Rich went out every day of those two years preaching for the Church and baptizing those who were converted. Of those converted during Rich’s time in Oregon, perhaps the most important one was himself.

“I consider myself converted from that experience,” Rich said. “It’s not that I didn’t have a testimony before, but after experiencing the spiritual things that happened to me, there were moments that will influence me forever. Of all the people I taught, I think I learned the most and my life has changed the most because of that. So I consider myself a learner, not the teacher, as a missionary.”

Rich, like all Latter-day Saint missionaries, had a vigorous schedule of teaching and seeking out people to teach. Even the weekends were full of meetings and visits.

“I don’t think there’s a substitute for hard work, and it seems like in today’s world, it’s full of shortcuts,” Rich said. “We have smart phones and can do all this with just a press of a button, but there’s really no substitute for working hard in whatever it may be.”

With that, Rich found by putting his heart into his work, he was able to accomplish more and get through the tough times.

“At first I think it was really hard to do missionary service because I didn’t quite understand or love it yet,” Rich said. “And once I began to love what I was doing, it changed my perspective entirely, and that’s kind of the same for football. Despite some of the challenges and the hardships, the hard practices or a loss here and there, you’ve got to love what you’re doing. I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned, just love what you’re doing and be passionate about it.”

As son of a former USFL football player and an athletic mother, Rich’s passion for sports started when he was very young. He began playing organized football at age seven, competing on teams with boys a year older than he was.

“I remember the first day I got my pads,” Rich said. “I slept in my football pants. I just was so excited to be a part of a football team.”

Growing up, Rich could always count on his parents to be some of his “believers”. Rich looked up to his father as an example of being a great athlete and said he could always count on his mom to encourage him, whether it be going to practice or just doing his best.

Rich succeeded on the football field early on, helping all but one of his teams reach the youth championships.

“We always won the little league championships,” Rich said. “When it was time to go to junior high, I played one more year of little league and my dad was our coach. We lost every single game.

I still give him a hard time about his record as a coach—0-8, or whatever.” Rich also helped his high school team reach eight victories his senior year, with only three losses and a trip to the first round of Utah’s 4A State Tournament in 2003.

From scholarship-less walk-on, Rich has risen to become one of BYU’s most talented defenders. Rich was named to the 2010 Preseason All-Mountain West Conference Team. Rich has also enjoyed success in academics, earning Academic All-MWC honors two years in a row.

“I’ve learned overcoming challenges and obstacles, whether it’s in the classroom or whether it’s on the football field,” Rich said.

Majoring in psychology, Rich looks forward to learning more about how people behave and being able to help others.

“I’m a crazy person and have a crazy family,” Rich said. “Psychology was just something I wanted to do to figure out why we are the way we are. I’m fascinated with the brain and with human behavior.

It’s very interesting and I like to help people, and I think psychology is definitely a way to reach people you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise.”

As Rich continues to pursue in his goals in the BYU football program, one person is the believer, teacher and friend Rich has needed to get through—a believer who once could have been considered among the doubters.

“I told him I didn’t think he was a scholarship player coming out of high school,” Mendenhall said.

“And sure enough, he ends up coming to BYU as a walk-on player, earns a scholarship, becomes an all-conference performer and is a team leader.”

Now as Rich’s coach for the past two years, Mendenhall shows he believes in Rich’s skill and conviction, making Rich the starting safety for BYU.

“I’ve had a lot of great influences, but coach Mendenhall has been not just a coach or an inspirational leader, but he’s been a really good friend of mine,” Rich said. “He’s helped me through thick and thin. He’s the reason why I’m still here playing.”

Rich has a great amount of respect and gratitude for Mendenhall’s example as a leader. Mendenhall takes time to get to know his players and make sure each is headed down the right path.

“I’ve always looked up to him and I feel like I’m somewhat indebted to him for what kind of example and friend he’s been to me,” Rich said. “I think that’s what makes coach Mendenhall so unique. It’s not business to him, it’s not just a game to him, but it’s the relationship he builds with the kids he coaches and the lessons we’ve learned.”

Following in his coach’s example, Rich tries to set an example for his teammates both on and off the field.

“Off the field, I would say my role is just to try to be a leader, a moral leader, as well as build friendships and just be a friend to the guys and always be there for whoever needs me,” Rich said. “Especially as a senior, your role kind of changes to be the flag bearer, to be the guy in front and always do the best you can. Be a good person and be myself. I think that’s the most important thing about leadership—when they see you being yourself is when they really buy in and think what you’re doing is the right thing and they try to emulate or mold their patterns of behavior after that.”

Motivating players on and off the field, he shows them they need to believe in themselves and work hard to accomplish their goals. “Make doubters believers” has influenced other players on the team, some of whom follow Rich’s example in writing “MDB” on their arms before games.

Rich isn’t sure if this will be his last season of football, but he isn’t overly concerned.

“Obviously I want to pursue football, if I can, for a few years after graduating, depending on the circumstances whether they allow it or not,” Rich said. “If not, then go to graduate school and enjoy life.”

He plans to pursue a career in industrial organizational psychology after graduate school, motivating people in business settings because he enjoys being around and working with other people.

Rich is also looking forward to having his own family. Rich was married June 17 to his wife Kimberly, whom he met at the BYU library his first year.

“She actually walked in with one of the other players, and I thought, ‘Oh, man. No way, that’s his girlfriend.’ Truth came out they were just friends, they’d never dated.”

Like other important and influential people in his life, Rich had to work to convince his future wife to be one of his believers. At first meeting, Rich didn’t have much success with Kimberly. The questions resulted in one-word answers that didn’t lead to long conversation. Rich finally got her phone number, but that only led to a few dates for a while.

“She wasn’t interested in me,” Rich recalled. “She actually told me she wanted to line me up with her sister. But she ended up falling for me.”

Kimberly later agreed to become Rich’s greatest believer, and afterward they were married in the Logan LDS Temple.

Rich’s journey to where he is today hasn’t always been easy, but his perseverance and commitment to hard work have helped him accomplish whatever he sets his mind to.

“I think I lot of times we take for granted where we’re at or what we’re doing,” Rich said.

This season Rich looks to continue making the doubters believe, reaching with the team to win a bowl game. By working his hardest and continually striving to be better on and off the field, Rich hopes to enjoy well-earned success this season.

“I just need to be the guy that’s prepared and hopefully has the answers most of the time,” Rich said. “I’m not the best athlete or the best player, but I can play my hardest. I think that’s something I’ve taken pride in my whole life, playing as hard as I can and letting guys see that’s the way the game should be played.”


Walk-On Success

Before Congressman Jason Chaffetz walked through the doors of the US Capitol to

serve his country, he walked onto the football field to serve BYU fans as a

scholarshipless kicker.

Through the rest of his football career, Chaffetz showed what many walk-ons have

continued to show—that they have what it takes to be a Cougar football player.

The athletes without scholarships not only have to juggle school and practice

schedules, but often work schedules and family time.

“They have class requirements, the practice requirements and in addition to that

they have to find a way to fund their own schooling,” said coach Bronco

Mendenhall. “That usually requires a job or student loans. Some are married as

well, and so it’s very difficult. For them to want and to do all those things

and still play football is pretty remarkable.”

In the past five years, only 29 walk-ons have gone on to earn scholarships.

“A lot of kids come here, when they could have gone elsewhere and walk on because that’s where they’ve always dreamed of being,” Mendenhall said. “They end up really helping our program because there’s so much conviction.”

Among this group of walk-ons are three players who played in the NFL after their time at BYU, Lee Johnson, Chad Lewis and Dennis Pitta.

Johnson, a kicker for the 1984 championship team, played 18 years in the NFL for

the Houston Oilers, the Cleveland Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals, the New England Patriots, the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles. Johnson has the third most punting yards in NFL history.

Lewis, who tied for second place tight end in the nation his senior year, went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1997 to 2005. Lewis took a one-season hiatus from the Eagles to play with the St. Louis Rams, who won Super Bowl XXXIV, and then signed again with Philadelphia.

Perhaps one of BYU’s most successful walk-ons, Pitta broke four BYU records and

one NCAA record with 83 receptions in the 2008 season, 221 career receptions and

2,901 career receiving yards. Starting this season, Pitta will play for the Baltimore Ravens.

Walk-on linebacker Matt Bauman, who graduated from BYU in April of 2010, was

a team captain for the Cougars in 2008 and 2009 and received an NCAA Post

Graduate Scholarship after his BYU career.

Other successful Cougars include, Ben Criddle (defensive back, 2006-2007),

Chuck Cutler (wide receiver, 1986-1988), Scott Johnson (defensive back, 2006-2009) and others from the 1984 championship team: Mark Bellini (wide receiver, 1982-1986), Steve Haymond (defensive back, 1980- 1984) and Kelly Smith (wide receiver, 1980-1985).

This season, starting safety Andrew Rich is one of those walk-ons enjoying success on the football field.

“It’s not the scholarship that I came for, but it’s the experience and the guys that I wanted to be around and the environment that I wanted to be around,” Rich said.

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