A year ago near the 50-yard line at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, University of Colorado safety Afolabi Laguda and Colorado State wide receiver Michael Gallup exchanged high-fives and hugs while their conversation intensified. It was a mixture of "Love you, man" and "We're going to kick your tail tonight."
The Rocky Mountain Showdown was a reunion for the Georgia natives who became teammates in 2014 at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan., and who were making their first career starts in the Football Bowl Subdivision. They texted on the way to the stadium and met at midfield to soak in the pregame moment together.
"Mike's going to get an invitation to my wedding one day and I plan on getting an invitation to his," Laguda — a.k.a. Fo — said of Gallup, who goes by MG3. "That's how strong our bond is."
Laguda, a 22-year-old senior team captain and CU's most experienced defensive back, is in his third season in Boulder after playing at Butler in 2014. Gallup, 21, who played two years at Butler, enters his senior season after a junior season with the Rams in which he was named a first-team all-Mountain West selection.
"The one thing I can say about Fo is, he's always been good to me, always looked out for me like I'm his little brother," Gallup said. "Even when I was coming to Colorado State, it wasn't Colorado but I was going to be close to him and he needed someone out here, within driving distance, that he could meet and get something to eat or whatever. That was a big factor in my decision to come to CSU, having somebody who has been out here for a year. We're at different schools, but that's a good friend of mine and we'll always be friends. We always hype each other up."
Laguda and Gallup weren't friends in Georgia, but they knew of each other. Laguda attended Brookwood High School in Snellville and Gallup went to Monroe High. They now talk or text on a weekly basis, and Laguda planned on attending CSU's season opener Saturday against Oregon State in Fort Collins. CSU won 58-27.
"I'll talk to him this week, before his game, just to let him know, 'Good luck, much love,' and I'm there supporting him," Laguda said at CU's media day last week. "I'll be there. Even though I'm a Buff at heart, I support Michael, just because it took us a lot to both get to where we are. I'll also do a little scouting."
In the days leading up to this week's 88th Rocky Mountain Showdown, Laguda said he and Gallup won't ignore each other.
"We'll talk at least once a day," he said. "What's said in those talks, who knows. But I know next Friday night, when I see MG3, there will be an exchange — a big hug and a smile."
Competition drives the Georgia boys. Laguda, whose parents emigrated from Nigeria, said Gallup would often entice him to walk to Butler's field house at 11 p.m. to run sprints and lift weights. At practice, Laguda would often line up at cornerback to test Gallup.
"He played safety, but he always wanted to go one-on-one with me at the corner position," Gallup said.
"Yeah, we talked smack," Laguda said. "We would talk so much smack to each other out there at practice, at one-on-ones. You would think we hated each other. Just for a guy who cared about my success that much, it showed me a lot. MG3 was just a different type of guy who carried himself a different type of way. He made me better."
A third Butler teammate from Georgia, running back Chris Carson, went on to play at Oklahoma State and is in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks. Georgia is a recruiting hotbed for Butler, and Carson, Laguda and Gallup made the best of it together.
"When we first got to Butler, we didn't really know much about each other. We just knew we were Georgia and juco is a struggle," Laguda said. "To struggle with guys who generally care about you, and push you to get better, it just kept us out of trouble."
Laguda doesn't know everything about Gallup. In fact, he thought the nickname MG3 stemmed from Gallup scoring three touchdowns in Butler's first scrimmage in 2014. The real story:
"RG3 (Robert Griffin III) was a hot topic when I was in high school, and MG3 came up because of my number. I was 3 back then," said Gallup, who dons No. 4 with the Rams. "Some people say MG4 now, but I still get MG3 a lot. They keep telling me to go get No. 3, but the coaches won't let me. They said I balled out in 4 so I got to keep it."
The Georgia boys might clear up any confusion about MG3 or anything else at midfield Friday in Denver. Yes, they will text on the way to the stadium and meet pregame to celebrate the environment.
"I plan on meeting up with him again, letting him know how it's going to go down," Gallup joked.
"I'm looking forward to that," Laguda said.