‘THE REAL DEAL’
LAS VEGAS – Cooper Rothe’s kicks just make “that” sound.
“The thud off his foot says it all,” former Wyoming kicker and 2001 All-American, JD Wallum said. “There’s only one frequency or sound – and that’s it. Only the great ones have it. It just explodes off the foot.”
Dan Christopulos, who owns the longest field goal in program history after splitting the uprights from 62 yards out against Colorado State in 1977, calls Rothe the “most consistent kicker Wyoming has ever had.”
How’s that for high praise?
At Tuesday’s opening day of Mountain West Conference Media Days, Rothe was named the preseason Special Teams Player of the Year. That comes on the heels of a 16-of-17 performance in 2018, which landed the Longmont, Colo., product as a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.
Wednesday, he was named to that same award's watch list.
They hand that out to the nation’s best place kicker.
"My goal is to put it through no matter what it takes," Rothe said Wednesday morning at MWC Media Days in Las Vegas. "Any award I get is a team award."
Yes, Rothe is starting to turn heads. But the most shocking news of late for the senior might be his invitation to sit in this room inside a Nevada resort with cameras and microphones in his face.
"I was just joking with Logan (Wilson) about that," Rothe laughed. "We are two of the most quiet guys on the team. I don't know what's going on with the offense or defense, so I can't talk much about that. Maybe that was planned?"
On Tuesday, Rothe said photographers made him scream and flex into the camera. He was wearing a helmet with a shield. He had wrist bands on.
"Yeah, that's not me," Rothe joked.
On to the real stuff.
Let’s not pretend that kicking in Laramie is a walk in the park.
Howling winds, wet surfaces and hard footballs are a fact of life on the high plains. Yes, the altitude can help. Christopulos thinks it adds roughly four to five extra yards to a kick. Wallum said the lack of humidity plays more of a factor than thin air.
Whatever the case, Wyoming has had its fair share of standout kickers in its history.
Names like Sean Fleming, Aaron Elling, Cory Wedel and Jerry DePoyster litter the school’s record books. Fleming is the Cowboys all-time leading scorer with 324 total points.
In fact, he broke four of Christopulos’ records – in one game.
“I was there,” he said. “It was a pretty cool moment. I never understood why guys don’t want people to break their records? That’s supposed to be how it goes.”
Fleming was a perfect 6-for-6 in field-goal attempts in a 1990 clash with Arkansas State. That was the most successful kicks in a game, most points scored kicking in a single game and the most points scored in four quarters by a place kicker. Fleming would later break Christopulos’ record for most consecutive successful kicks.
Wedel has since tied or broken all those records.
Rothe might be next.
Christopulos, 62, has only one record remaining. He hopes that soon belongs to Rothe, too.
“Oh yeah, I’d love to see him break it,” he said. “The distance one will be hard. I just hope I’m there to see that one. I hope I’m alive.”
This kick in the video above means a lot to Rothe. He said that was one of the memorable one, coming in with three seconds left in the half and booting a 43-yard field goal through the driving rain. The Cowboys won that game over rival Colorado State, 16-13.
"I just try to keep it simple, whether it's from 50 or 20 yards," Rothe said. "I try to have the same swing,"
No matter where the ball is spotted on the field, Rothe has been more than efficient putting it through the yellow pipes.
He is currently the top kicker in program history when it comes to single-season extra-point attempts and makes (64), extra points per game (4.6) and single-season percentage (100). All of those were set in 2016. The senior is currently the ninth-leading scorer in UW lore.
No matter if he breaks another one, Wallum says Rothe has what it takes to kick beyond the college level.
“I’m extremely impressed and excited for his future,” Wallum said. “I can tell you he has what it takes to kick on Sunday. Then, you package that with his rock-solid approach, how comfortable he is in his stance and his selflessness, you get the total package.
“He’s very good.”
Looking back on his career, Rothe said one thing comes to mind -- that he's "capable."
He knows he can be one of the best place kickers in the country. He knows he can make the long kicks. The pressure-filled ones, too. He wants to be considered one of the best. But that's just because it proves he did his job, he said.
"It motivates me to get back there," he said of the preseason and past-season's accolades. "I can only control what I can and put my head down and work."
When he was told that a pair of the best kickers to ever do it in Laramie were watching him closely and admiring his work, Rothe was stunned. He knows he is just the next in line when it comes to UW's kicking tradition.
Does he think about the NFL? Sure. But, he said he has work to do first.
Can he eclipse Christopulos' 62-yard record? Maybe.
"Depends what the situation is," he said, grin creasing his face. "Maybe If I got some wind at my back."
If he can't do it, maybe the guy next to him at media days can. Wilson kicked at Natrona County High School. In fact, a video just appeared on his phone Wednesday, showing him booting a 60-yarder off a tee six years ago.
"I think my kicking days are over," Wilson laughed. "This guy right here has a pretty strong leg though."