LARAMIE – In some ways, the consistent contact made things better. In other ways, the consistent pleasantries exchanged made it sting all the more for Cooper Rothe.
Rothe – the leading scorer in the history of University of Wyoming football and a Lou Groza Award finalist as a junior in 2018 – was cautiously optimistic he might hear his name called in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL draft in late April. The Longmont, Colorado, product with the golden leg had been in touch with the special teams coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, John Bonamego, throughout the pre-draft process. Rothe was on the Rams’ short list of kickers they were eyeing late in the draft, Rothe said, to the point Bonamego texted Rothe before the third and final day of the draft to wish him luck. The two were in contact for several months.
Bonamego, of course, saw Rothe perform firsthand: He was Central Michigan’s head coach in 2017 when the Cowboys took down the Chippewas 37-14 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, a game where Rothe made all three of his field goal attempts and was a perfect 4 of 4 on extra points.
The Rams wound up taking Miami (Ohio) kicker Sam Sloman with the 248th pick of the draft. Bonamego called Rothe afterward: In addition to selecting Sloman, the Rams were signing XFL kickers, as well.
Talk about a tough, football-shaped pill to swallow.
“That was a kick in the stomach,” Rothe told WyoSports.
Rothe’s football future continues to hang in the balance. He has not received a deal as an undrafted free agent, nor has he been invited to any mini-camps. At a juncture where things are especially strange in sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rothe is making the most of a tough situation.
Always one to look at the bright side of a situation, Rothe is not having a one-man pity party. That’s never been his style. Instead, he’s looking at his predicament as an opportunity to continue pursuing his dreams rather than as an indicator to stop.
“It’s still my mindset to make it to the next level,” Rothe said. “(My dad tells me) ‘You’re going to work every day when you’re older. Might as well continue to try.’”
Rothe is back home in Colorado, doing his best to stay in shape without access to a full gym. He has a few dumbbells and a bench in the basement of his parents’ house where he works out, and he’s snuck around to a few local parks to try and get some kicking practice in, though he admits he’s been, quite literally, kicked out of two or three at this point.
“I’ll just go to a baseball outfield and try to hit a post,” Rothe said. “But it’s probably better than nothing.”
Rothe has run the gamut of emotions over the past year.
Following his All-American caliber 2018 season where he made 16 of 17 field goals, all of his extra point attempts and was invited to the prestigious College Football Awards show, Rothe had a turbulent senior campaign. He was 15 of 22 on field goals and missed a career-high three extra point tries in 2019 after missing just one over his first three seasons.
The low-point came at Boise State in November, where Rothe missed a 37-yard field goal in overtime that would have extended the game. As he always does, however, Rothe met the media the following Monday with a smile and unbridled optimism. He’s keeping that same sort of mentality now.
Rothe says he isn’t upset or angry. If anything, he’s a little bit confused, like many of us are at the moment.
Because of the indefinite hiatus of sports around the world, NFL teams aren’t as keen on signing players for training camps that might not happen for quite some time, if at all. Rothe’s agent told him while a team might normally have three or four kickers now for the sake of competition, many clubs are sticking with just one at the moment as there is no competition to be had. It’s a tough timing and circumstance to be part of.
Rothe could easily play the “what if?” game: If his senior season had been more consistent, would he have heard his name called during the draft? If the pandemic hadn’t limited/decimated the potential for team visits, would he have a contract by now?
Instead, Rothe is encouraged by what he experienced in the pre-draft process. The fact the Rams showed interest in him is a positive. That an NFL positional coach took legitimate interest in him and told Rothe he “checked off all the boxes” is something to be proud of. That he’s been told to stay ready means someone might come calling.
The past is the past. The future is what Rothe is eyeing.
The NFL kicker life is not for the faint of heart. Even veterans get cut and can spend long periods of time unemployed, waiting for phone calls that might never come. But this is the lifestyle Rothe chose, and it’s a dream he plans to chase as long as he’s able to.
“If someone calls, you have to be ready to go. That’s my mindset,” Rothe said. “If a team calls tomorrow, to be ready.”