Three consecutive victories over Air Force haven’t changed Cooper Rothe’s sour association with Colorado Springs sports.
The Wyoming senior, one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award last year and the reigning Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year, still broods over losses to Pikes Peak region teams during his high school career at Longmont.
In basketball, his team lost to Air Academy in overtime in the 4A championship game during his junior year. Rothe played point guard for Longmont’s Trojans, who suffered their only loss of the season in the title tilt.
In football, his team lost to Pine Creek in the championship game. That was a little easier to take, considering the Eagles won 45-20.
“They just ran all over us,” said Rothe, who played defensive back in high school.
Rothe also played center field in baseball. Were there bad experiences against Colorado Springs teams in that sport, too?
“I don’t even want to think any more about that,” he said.
But Rothe’s feelings about Colorado Springs didn’t mean he wasn’t interested in playing for Air Force. He attended football camps with the Falcons as a defensive back, but his recruitment took off after he sent the coaches his kicking highlights.
“He was a really, really good athlete,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “Really a neat young man, too.”
An offer came from the Falcons, but too late in the process.
“Wyoming kind of had my heart at first,” he said. “I was really interested and wanted to learn more about the academy. It was just basically bad timing.”
Rothe’s background is abnormal for a kicker — particularly one so successful — not because he was a multisport athlete, but that one of those sports wasn’t soccer. He stopped playing soccer at a young age and then developed his own kicking style, not taking it particularly seriously until he realized it opened doors to college football.
“It was probably better that way,” he said. “I didn’t develop any bad habits.”
Rothe has started all four years for the Cowboys, peaking in 2018 when he made 16 of 17 field-goal attempts. He’s dipped this year to a 12 of 18 mark. His 37-yard miss in overtime at Boise State sent the Cowboys to a three-point loss. But his 48-yard kick in frigid conditions gave the Cowboys an important cushion in a 17-7 victory over Colorado State last week.
With frigid weather predicted Saturday at Falcon Stadium between two ground-based teams, expect kickers to potentially factor heavily between Air Force (9-2, 6-1 Mountain West) and Wyoming (7-4, 4-3).
Air Force’s Jake Koehnke, a Groza Award semifinalist, is 10 of 10 this season on field goals. He’s one of five kickers nationally without a miss this season.
In a twist, given his high school track record, Rothe has a perfect mark against Air Force in college. The Cowboys have gone 3-0 in those games and, while Rothe hasn’t attempted a field goal, he’s 14 of 14 on PATs.