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Home for the holidays: Rich likes UConn, but misses tea
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North Hall High grad Derek Rich is settling in just fine at the University of Connecticut. The sophomore played in all 12 games this season, assuming duties as the starting long snapper and back-up tight end.

Rich, who graduated from North Hall in 2006, was part of history this season at UConn as the Huskies went 7-0 at home for only the second time in school history.

Times sports writer Corey Wilson spoke with Rich while he is home for the holidays about playing in the Big East Conference, what a normal day is like for a collegiate football player and future plans.

Question: How has the adjustment been from North Hall to the University of Connecticut?

Answer: I’ve gotten used to it now. It was tough during my first semester. I’m a family guy, so it was tough at first to be that far away from my friends and family. It was really tough to manage school work and football, but now that my grades are back up, things are going really well.

Q: What’s a normal day like for you?

A: We have breakfast check from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., then I have class anywhere from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. We have to be at the stadium around 1 p.m. to get taped and dressed, then we have meetings until about 3 p.m. Practice usually runs from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., then we head back to the dorms and shower up and stuff. Then we have dinner after that, and study hall is usually about two hours a night. It’s really tough to bear down and get your school work done, but I definitely enjoy it.

Q: What is it like playing in the Big East Conference?

A: It’s a lot of fun. When you hear people talking about football, they mostly talk about the SEC and ACC, but the Big East is making a name for itself with teams like West Virginia, Louisville and South Florida. Every team has some big name players, like (West Virginia’s) Pat White and Steve Slaton and (Louisville’s) Brian Brohm. Week in and week out, you’re playing against great competition, and any given game you can get beat.

Q: How does college football differ from high school football?

A: The speed of the game is a lot different. Everybody is big and everybody’s strong. No matter if you’re on first string, second or even third, everybody is able to compete at the college level.

Q: What was your most memorable moment of the 2007 season?

A: The Louisville game was awesome. No one gave us a shot at winning that game. We were picked to finish seventh out of eight teams before the season started, but Louisville really sparked our run. We were down by 10 with three minutes left, and we ended up scoring 14 unanswered points to win the game. It was a lot of fun playing against Brian Brohm and beating a good team like Louisville.

Q: How much playing time did you see this season?

A: Most of my playing time this season was on special teams. I served as the starting long snapper for the punt team, and I also came in on short yardage, goal line sets as tight end. We run a lot of two and three tight end sets, so I saw about 10 snaps a game at tight end.

Q: What was it like being part of history at UConn?

A: It was a lot of fun. It was disappointing coming off a 4-8 season last year, especially coming from a football program at North Hall where I wasn’t used to losing. But everybody worked hard in the offseason, and coming out of the season 9-3 and being co-Big East champions was awesome. It’s just been a lot of fun to be part of something special like that.

Q: Did you have a chance to keep up with North Hall’s season this year?

A: I sure did. I followed them mostly online and stuff, but I definitely kept up with them. I had some friends on the team, and I know how hard those guys worked, so I was really proud of them.

Q: What do you miss most about Gainesville?

A: Sweet tea. You can’t find it up here in the North. So every time I come home, that’s the first thing I do — drink a big glass of sweet tea.

Q: What are you future plans?

A: I hope to continue to play football. If an opportunity at the next level presents itself, then I would definitely try that out. But if that doesn’t happen, then I definitely hope to fall back on my degree in either business or sports management.

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