HELENA — Since a young age, Camron Rothie and Tucker Jones have been nearly inseparable on fields of play. They played together on the Bitterroot Red Sox baseball team and spent three seasons together on Hamilton High School’s football roster.
Both standouts at the prep level as all-state-caliber players, Rothie and Jones got the chance to call themselves teammates once again when Jones signed with Carroll in February of last year.
“It’s been great,” Rothie said of his time with Jones at Carroll. “Tucker came on his visit and stayed with me. It’s great to have a friend from high school like that, life-long friends. We’ve been friends since we were little kids, we grew up doing everything together. It’s great to have new friends and it’s great to have people like him that I’ve known my whole life.”
Rothie is the older of the pair by a year and helped the Saints land Jones who was an all-state linebacker and three-time all-conference wide receiver at Hamilton under head coach Bryce Carver. Rothie himself was a standout pass-catcher, breaking the Class A record for career touchdown receptions with 42, including 21 scores in 2018 alone.
Both players were selected to the Badlands Bowl and Montana East-West Shrine Game before their respective commitments to Carroll while also holding roles as team captains during their time at Hamilton.
Rothie’s production during his prep career and his Dean’s List-caliber effort in the classroom ultimately led the Saints to offer the 5-foot-9, 160-pound wide-out. It was Rothie’s relationship with Jones, however, that allowed Carroll to also land a Western A Defensive Player-of-the-Year and multiple-time all-state selection in Jones just a year later.
“We sit down with our players when we’re recruiting another one from high school and go, ‘hey is this the right type of guy,’” Saints offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator Alex Pfannenstiel said. “‘You know what our culture here is as a football program and as a school, does he fit?’ In that case, Cam Rothie was a slam dunk and he came in and said Tucker Jones is the right type of kid and he’s going to be a great football player here.”
Through three games, both Rothie and Jones are making impacts in their own ways as part of a larger push by the younger players on Carroll’s roster to make a difference. As a redshirt freshman, Rothie hauled in his first career collegiate touchdown against Montana State Northern a couple weeks ago and has caught two passes for 10 yards.
“It was cool,” Rothie said of his first touchdown. “I got put in a great situation in the red zone and got a chance and I scored. I’ve never felt anything like that, it was a surreal experience going into halftime.”
Jones has booked eight tackles as a freshman linebacker, including 2.5 for a loss of yardage. He has also been credited with 1.5 sacks. Without a season in the fall, some of the new faces in the 2020 recruiting class, like Jones, got an extended off-season to work on preparing their bodies for what awaited them at the collegiate level.
“That big break in the beginning of the year where, unfortunately, our season got pushed back, that allowed us all to get in the weight room, work hard, get to know all of our defensive calls and be fundamentally sound going into the spring,” Jones said.
Four players earned their first collegiate touchdowns two weeks ago against Northern and numerous new faces continue to show up in the tackles column for Carroll. Rothie and Jones have each been pieces to that larger puzzle and get coaches excited over the prospects of their futures.
A slot receiver with speed and quickness, Rothie understands his role is to get open and not drop the ball. Despite just being a second-year player, Rothie has already exhibited ability beyond his years that pretty much forced Carroll’s coaching staff to find room for him on the field.
“Cam is a very advanced wide-out for his age,” Pfannenstiel said. “He’s got a great feel for the football game. Bryce Carver, his coach at Hamilton, did a great job, obviously he was a wide receiver at the University of Montana. His feel for the football game, his ability to run routes and how to fit in coverage is beyond his age. He’s earned more opportunities as the year has gone along.”
Jones has also carved out more playing time for himself as the four-game season deepened. It culminated with three tackles and a sack against Northern, but the sky really does appear to be the limit for Jones who finished his senior season at Hamilton second on the team with 79 tackles.
“Tucker Jones is an alley guy,” Saints head coach Troy Purcell said. “An Alley guy to me is somebody you take into the alley and you know he’ll be right with you as you’re going through it no matter what happens. He’s a tough alley guy.”
Rothie and Jones are not the only pair of players to have played together at the high school level, but they do represent two young football players with tons of upside who are just beginning to get their first tastes of the sport they love at the next level.
Once teammates on the same side of the football, Rothie has retired from playing corner and Jones has given up his pass-catching days. While that has made it a bit harder for the two friends to be near each other during practice or bus rides to away games, it has not impacted a friendship that was forged long before each of them got to Carroll.
“It’s awesome,” Jones said. “We grew up playing baseball together, we played three years of high school together. Now coming here, you’ve got an automatic friend coming in...Especially if you have nothing to do during the week and you get some time off, you have someone that you’ve always hung out with throughout high school, so he’s just a phone call away.”