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Border War

Wyoming kicker Cooper Rothe kicks a field goal during the Cowboys' game against Colorado State on Oct. 26 at Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins, Colo.

LARAMIE — There’s some irony to what Cooper Rothe is doing.

Growing up in Longmont, Colorado, Rothe never thought he’d be a kicker. In fact, he rarely passed up the opportunity to rib those who seemed to have the simplest task in football.

“Even in high school, I couldn’t imagine myself being a kicker,” Rothe said. “I was always the kid that made fun of those kickers. Like, ‘Dang, that’s probably the easiest job. Why can’t you just make everything?’”

But that’s exactly what he became during his prep career, splitting his time at Longmont High as a kicker and defensive back. Three years later, Wyoming’s placekicker is one of the best in college football.

Rothe has connected on 94 percent of his field goals this season, putting himself on pace for one of the best seasons ever for a Wyoming placekicker. He’s six shy of setting a single-season school record for made field goals with at least two games left starting with the Cowboys’ Nov. 17 matchup against Air Force.

The 5-foot-11, 174-pound junior made his first 15 field goals this season and hit on 18 straight dating back to last year’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl — the longest streak in the nation — before missing on a 43-yard attempt midway through the first quarter of a chilly, gusty win over San Jose State last week. Winds inside War Memorial Stadium reached more than 30 miles per hour at times, though Rothe said they were worse during warmups.

He realized he’d overcompensated for the wind once the ball left his foot. The kick went wide right.

“I think I tried placing it a certain way and I think it didn’t move it as much, so I think I should’ve just trusted it a little bit more with my normal swing,” Rothe said. “But it was moving a little bit.

“I guess it was fun to have a little streak going there, but to start another one is the goal, I think. I guess the goal every game is to make every field goal, and obviously that didn’t happen.”

Regardless of the distance, it’s happened far more often than not. Rothe has converted at an 80-percent clip for his career with five of his field goals this season covering at least 40 yards, including a career-long 51-yarder at Missouri on Sept. 8.

“A lot of those points have added up,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. “He’s been really consistent. He’s owned his work. He spends a lot of time watching himself. We videotape a lot of his kicks, so he’s been a real student of the game.”

It’s been a gradual progression the last three years for Rothe, who made just 65 percent (13 of 20) of his kicks as a freshman. The misses ate at him so much that Rothe said he got to where he was attempting more than 50 field goals during practice, which left bruises on his foot. It served as a lesson in preparation that’s ultimately helped preserve his stamina.

“I knew I had things to work on, but I thought it was just things I had to fix right away, so I’d just be kicking 24-7 instead of watching film and learning that way,” Rothe said. “I think learning that way and learning there’s a certain amount of balls you can kick in practice and the rest is just mental.

“Now it’s down between 20 and 30 (during practice). I think that’s helped my leg a lot.”

Rothe improved drastically on his consistency last season, connecting on 83 percent (15 of 18) of his field goals that included a career-long 49-yarder at the time. Now he’s the national leader in field-goal percentage amid a breakout season in which he’s a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is annually awarded to the nation’s top collegiate placekicker.

“No matter how far the kick or what situation it is in the game, just keep the same mindset to do one job — make a field goal,” Rothe said. “Even on kickoffs, just do your job, trust your teammates and try to reward the offense for the field position and get them points.”

Rothe can’t help but get a kick out of it all in more ways than one.

“I definitely couldn’t imagine this, so it’s a blessing to be here,” he said.

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Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter

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