Finally, Runner-ups Are in the Past for Team Roper Kaleb Driggers

Jul 14, 2022

Finally, Runner-ups Are in the Past for Team Roper Kaleb Driggers
Here we go with part three of Gold Buckle Buzz, a series of exclusive interviews with each 2021 PRCA World Champion. Please enjoy Team Roping (header) champion Kaleb Driggers.

By Brian Hurlburt

It seems a long time ago, and in a rodeo galaxy far, far away, since Kaleb Driggers galloped onto the scene as the 2009 overall and team roping (header) PRCA Rookie of the Year.

It seemed destined that he would become a world champion sooner than later, but then the years clicked by and the near-misses added up. So many runner-up finishes in the world standings, it was hard to keep count.

The heartbreak was real.

And that is precisely why Driggers is enjoying his 2021 PRCA World Title for all its worth.

Kaleb Driggers after being announced as the 2021 World Champion.

Driggers partnered with heeler Junior Noguiera to finally claim his gold buckle. The duo earned $143,896 during the 2021 Wrangler NFR to finish third over the 10 nights.

Driggers finished atop the world standings with $263,227. Noguiera also notched his first team roping world title to go along with his 2016 All-Around gold buckle.

“The one word that I use to describe how I feel about the world title is appreciative,” Driggers says. “I’m very appreciative for the opportunity that God blessed me with. There are a million things that go into it and I am so thankful for everybody that stood in my corner along the way and believed in me. It was a long road for us to get here and to get it done. I am also very appreciative for the people that took the time and told us, ‘Keep it up, keep going’. They kept us strong.”

Driggers remains strong in 2022 and leads the PRCA World Standings through mid-July by $30,000 over Clay Tryan. A higher power is guiding him.

“I always assume God first, but I feel like that in the last several years, I’ve taken my faith a little more seriously,” Driggers says. “I was raised in church and always believed in God, but I’ve put forth a little more effort lately. The peace that he brings me in everyday life is surreal.” 

Besides God at his side, Driggers also gets to rope and ride with arguably the best heeler in rodeo. Noguiera also believes he is riding with the finest header in the sport.

Kaleb Driggers and Junior Noguiera in Round 4 of the 2021 Wrangler NFR. | PRCA Photo by Rod Connor

“He’s just so smart and a hard worker, too,” Noguiera says about his partner. “He just tries to give himself the best chance with everything he does. He also doesn’t get too high or too low with his emotions and that’s what makes him great. He keeps his emotions in the middle the whole time and that helps us a lot. I’m a little bit more emotional, so he keeps us balanced. I’m learning how to stay more focused and stay in the middle, but sometimes I get a little bit low and then when I do great, I get more excited and everybody sees that.”

For maximum success in team roping, a bond must be built and maintained between header and heeler. Over the years, Driggers and Noguiera have forged such a dynamic.

“We’ve been roping for six years now and we feed off of each other, and have an idea of what the situation is and what we’re going to try to get done that night,” Driggers says. “But if we feel like there’s a little bit of a different game plan that he thinks might help him or might help me, then we’ll talk about it. Right before we walk down the lane, we have a prayer and then go compete. This is our life and what we do for a living, and if you’re not enjoying it and you’re not having fun with the person that you’re doing it with, then your life is going to be miserable. We’re blessed and we’re really good friends and brothers. Being able to do this with him makes it that much more special.”

The 2021 Wrangler NFR marked Driggers’ ninth appearance since 2011. Driggers roped with Jade Corkill in 2012 and finished second in the world and watched first-hand as Corkill won his first title.

It was 2016 when Driggers and Nogueira paired up for the first time. They had plenty of success, but finished second in the world from 2016-18 and third in 2019. They split in 2020 before reuniting in 2021, which proved fateful for both. 

Kaleb Driggers at the 2021 Wrangler NFR. | Photo by PRCA

The 10 nights in 2021 didn’t always go as planned, and the two had to dig deep after Driggers uncharacteristically missed during the 7th go-round. The duo finished 13th that night and Driggers was $17,000 behind Dustin Egusquiza in the world standings with three rounds remaining.

“I actually drew a steer that we wanted really badly, but I made a mistake and it nearly cost us,” Driggers says. “The previous night, the steer we had kind of stepped into me and I really had to put my horse on his butt and come back. So, the next night, the steer took a step to the right and my horse anticipated incorrectly a little bit. I tried to extend but I extended too much. I got a front leg. It was a challenge to come back from that, but because we have been in that situation so many times, we just kept a positive mindset.”

The positivity and blessings seem to be coming in bunches for Noguiera and Driggers, who appear to be well on their way to the Thomas & Mack Center in December to defend their (first) world titles.