Earlier this week, with the final faint vestiges of sunset lingering over Longmont High School, Ryan Rulon and Cooper Rothe jogged off the field together after another practice session at Everly-Montgomery Field.
Comrades-in-arms at cornerback in the Trojans’ defensive backfield, it was a fitting sight. Throughout the offseason, if Rulon was bulking up in the weight room, Rothe invariably was beside him. When Rothe was honing his tackling techniques during the preseason under the hot August sun, Rulon was toiling just as doggedly alongside him.
A glance at the state’s interception leaders begins with Rothe but, naturally, Rulon is right behind him. And as many a bruised and battered receiver has learned this season, Rothe and Rulon compete like identical big-hitting, ball-hawking clones in the Longmont secondary.
Forming one of the most dominant cornerback duos in the state, the two juniors hope they can put together one more turnover-laden performance when the Trojans take on Pine Creek in the Class 4A state championship game Saturday at Sports Authority Field (11 a.m., Altitude).
“They both played as sophomores, and they both at times were overwhelmed with the speed and the physicality of the game,” Longmont coach Doug Johnson said. “But the best thing about sophomores is they become juniors. And both of those guys worked their tail ends off to get better. They both play other sports. They both lift. And they’ve really developed themselves into great competitors.”
A year wiser and a year stronger, Rothe and Rulon have owned opposing receivers since the outset of the season.
Rothe leads all of Class 4A with nine interceptions, a figure that also is tied for the most in the state overall. Alongside Rothe, Rulon is one of just 10 players in Class 4A to collect at least five interceptions.
Moreover, both cornerbacks have recorded the bulk of their takeaways in key situations. Rothe nabbed two interceptions against Greeley West late in the regular season to key a victory that secured the Long Peaks League title for the Trojans. Rothe also had an interception in the 4A tournament opener against Pueblo Centennial and another in the quarterfinals against Fort Collins.
Rulon recorded a late interception in the semifinals against Broomfield last weekend and also grabbed one in the quarterfinal win against Fort Collins.
“Last year started to be kind of a friendly competition between me and (Rulon), like who could start the most games or start over the other,” Rothe said. “This year it has gone to who can get the most picks. We compete with each other for that and we also compete with our line too for sacks. That kind of helps us out all-around on defense.”
Both players credited the tutelage of defensive coordinator Brian Arndt for helping them evolve into all-around defensive backs, players equally adept at delivering punishing hits as snaring wayward passes from opposing quarterbacks.
“First of all, we always try to cover up deep, but we want to make sure we can come down and make tackles,” Rulon said. “Whenever everyone just does their job, we’re fine.”
While Pine Creek senior quarterback Tommy Lazzaro has thrown just three interceptions in 164 attempts — that’s one in roughly every 55 passes — Rothe and Rulon still will play key roles in slowing down the Eagles’ rushing attack. That ground game is based largely on outside option plays, meaning pressure delivered from the outside edge by the Longmont secondary will go a long way toward bottling up prolific Pine Creek running back Josh Odom.
“I think coming down to the end of the year, everyone is a little beat-up,” Rothe said. “It’s going to depend on who wants it more and who’s going to come out and play like it’s going to be their last game.”
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