Going into this week's NFL Draft the odds are against BYU's Andrew Rich and Vic So'oto.
They both say, "Bring it on."
Rich and So'oto head a group of seven former BYU players looking to get a shot at the NFL, via draft or free agency. It's been 17 years (1994) since a Cougar wasn't taken in the draft but it could happen again this weekend. Rich and So'oto could be taken in a later round but most if not all of BYU's draft hopefuls will have to sign as free agents.
That's not necessarily a bad thing: Of the 19 former BYU players currently on NFL rosters and practice squads 11 were originally signed as free agents.
Rich, a safety, and So'oto, a defensive end projected to play outside linebacker in the NFL, are used to overcoming obstacles. Rich was a walk-on at BYU who ended up a team captain and an All-MWC performer. So'oto lost two seasons to injury and changed positions three times (from tight end to linebacker to defensive end). He finished his career as a first team All-MWC selection as well.
Rich took the winter semester off from school to focus on his preparation for the NFL, first in Phoenix, Ariz., with a personal trainer and lately with Dave Stroshine at AMP Gym in Provo.
"First of all it was just getting healthy, getting my body healed up from the season," Rich said. "After that I've just really been trying to get polished on my defensive back skills, get stronger and faster."
Rich said he's spoken to several representatives from NFL teams and feels confident someone will give him a shot at making a roster. The book on Rich is that he's a smart, physical player who may lack top-end speed (4.65 in the 40-yard dash on BYU Pro Day) but not effort.
"More than anything I have a love for the game," Rich said. "I'm a good teammate and I'm really consistent with my play. I'm a hard worker and I'm responsible. The NFL teams, for the most part, recognize that just by the way I play, by watching film and taking to my coaches. They have a pretty good idea of who I am before they talked to me. They do their homework."
Rich said he was even more confident about his NFL chances after playing in the East-West Shrine All-Star game in January.
"I played with other safeties who are considered draftable and I never felt like they were just better than me," Rich said. "I felt like I could do everything they could do. I never felt like I couldn't compete on that level. I'm just as good and bring a lot to the table. Whoever picks me up or drafts me will be happy they did."
The backup plan for Rich includes finishing his psychology degree, taking the GRE and getting a master's degree. He said he's interested in a career in industrial organizational psychology.
For now, he's focused on the next step in his football career.
"In my experience with BYU sports, anything I wanted to achieve came through hard work," Rich said. "My motto has always been 'Just give me a chance and I'll make it worth it.' A lot of people make a big deal out of the draft. I don't know what will happen but I just want to be on a roster come September, and I think I can do it."
So'oto, who has also been working with Stroshine since the end of the BYU season, is a new father -- a daughter was born to he and his wife Ashley in late January.
"I didn't miss a workout but I've missed a lot of sleep," So'oto said with a laugh.
In the past few weeks So'oto flew to Arizona to meet with the Cardinals management and coaches and the Kansas City Chiefs have also shown interest.
"Coming from Coach (Bronco) Mendenhall's defense, it's really similar to a lot of teams in the NFL," So'oto said. "Coming in as a young player that knows the 3-4 defense, that's good. Another thing is my work ethic. In Coach Mendenhall's defense everyone runs to the ball every play and we don't take plays off. My skills speak for themselves, and they (NFL scouts) know that."
So'oto wasn't invited to the NFL Combine last month but the numbers he posted at BYU Pro Day compare favorably. At 6-foot-3 and 261 pounds, So'oto lifted the 225-pound weight 35 times, which would have been the best performance by an outside linebacker at the Combine. His 3-cone drill time of 7.01 would have place him in the Top 5, and the 4.68 40-yard dash he ran in Provo would have tied for seventh.
"A huge thing I tell them is that I never dreamed about playing college football but I definitely dreamed about putting on a helmet and playing in the NFL," he said.
So'oto graduated from BYU in April of 2010 as a geography major. He said he would eventually like to come back to Provo and go to law school or get a master's degree.
"All I know for sure is that after this weekend I know where I'm going," So'oto said. "I'll be on an 80-man roster, hopefully make it though cuts the first weekend in September. I've gone through a lot here at BYU. All I can ask for is an opportunity. I'm a warrior, and whoever signs me, they will not be disappointed."
BYU wide receiver Luke Ashworth, cornerbacks Brian Logan and Brandon Bradley, offensive lineman Jason Speredon and kicker Mitch Payne also worked out for scouts on BYU Pro Day and are hoping for an opportunity through free agency.
Ashworth's 40-yard dash time of 4.61 at Pro Day was actually faster than TCU's Jeremy Kerley (4.65) and San Diego State's Vincent Brown (4.71).
Utah's Brandon Burton (cornerback), Caleb Schlauderaff (offensive lineman) and Sealver Siliga (defensive tackle), TCU's Kerley, Andy Dalton (quarterback) and Marcus Cannon (offensive lineman) and Brown are the top players from the Mountain West Conference who should be drafted. Last year, 13 players from the MWC were selected in the draft, including BYU tight end Dennis Pitta in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens.
The NFL draft begins tonight (Thursday) with the first round, followed by rounds three and four on Friday and rounds four through seven on Saturday. The event begins at 8 p.m. Eastern Time (6 p.m. Mountain) and will be televised on ESPN.
Daily Herald Sports Editor Darnell Dickson can be reached at 801-344-2555 or by e-mail at email@example.com