Nov 19, 2021
NFR Preview – Steer wrestling, team roping and tie-down roping
By Susan Kanode
It’s been a stellar year for rodeos across the country. For many of them it was a comeback after the pandemic and that has offered contestants more opportunities as they pursue a Wrangler National Finals Rodeoâ qualification. I’ve been to several events and watched them live. I’ve also tuned into the Cowboy Channel and seen rodeos that I couldn’t attend. I’ve followed the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association and what an exciting year it has been. I can’t wait to walk into the Thomas & Mack Center, — and The Orleans Arena for breakaway roping — feel the energy of the Wrangler NFR and see who emerges as our 2021 world champions. With an increase in prize money in Las Vegas, there is a lot at stake and it’s more than gold buckles. On that note, I have some thoughts that I will share in a series of blogs.
The favorites – I would never bet against Jacob Talley who is leading the world standings and has been for most of the year. He won The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, last March and hasn’t slowed down one bit. He is the only contestant in this year’s field to break $100,000 prior to the NFR and is one of the toughest guys on the planet. That’s not just because he is physically fit and treats his body like a professional athlete. Mentally, he is one of the strongest guys in the game. Right behind him is Jesse Brown who is making his second appearance at the NFR, but his first in Las Vegas. The start in Las Vegas is going to be different for him. Jesse will be one of three men riding the steer wrestling horse of the year, Tyson. That will help him as well as Scott Guenthner (seventh) and Curtis Cassidy, Tyson’s owner who qualified in the last spot.
And while we are talking about favorites, I have to include former world champs Tyler Waguespack and Tyler Pearson. They travel together, ride the same horses and are hard to beat in the Thomas & Mack. In fact, from 2016 – 2018, no one did. Pearson won his title in 2017 and Waguespack got the other two. Dakota Eldridge, third in the standings, has to be on the favorites list as well. The native of Nevada has qualified for his eighth NFR, has won the average twice and has the best record in the field. Every time he has nodded his head, he has brought a steer to the dirt during the finals. That kind of consistency should be rewarded and this could be his year.
The rookies – Two of the first-time qualifiers aren’t rookies to the NFR or Thomas & Mack Center at all. Dirk Tavenner will be nodding his head from the left side of the timed event box for the first time. He hazed for average winner Stetson Jorgensen in Las Vegas in 2019 and for Stetson and world champion Jacob Edler last year at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. He was always grateful for the opportunity to haze for these guys but is beyond excited to be competing.
Tristan Martin’s name might be familiar to fans and it should be. His uncle, Casey Martin, qualified for rodeo’s championships five times. Tristan was the National High School Rodeo Association champion (2015) and went on to win the title in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (2019). He’s been in the Las Vegas arena before preparing steers for the competition. He joined the PRCA as soon as he turned 18 and thanks to a big win at the Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon the last month of the season, he’ll start his first NFR in 14th place.
If there were awards given for the best stories, Cody Devers would be at the top of the list. When he was in high school, he wrote an essay about what it means to be an American and won a scholarship from the H.D Hogan Foundation. H.D. chose to join the Marines instead of accepting a rodeo scholarship and was killed in action in 2012. That led to another essay about H.D.’s service and the families sacrifice and because of that, Cody won the “Duke of the Chutes” Award honoring Harry Vold during the CNFR. At Cody’s first NFR, he is competing in honor of H.D. Hogan. Cody’s college experience came at Northwestern Oklahoma State University where Stockton Graves was his coach. Now he’ll be competing at his first WNFR against Graves who qualified in 10th place.
The favorites – This might be the toughest event to pick favorites. I wouldn’t bet against any of the top teams. Dustin Egusquiza, who leads the heading, roped in the Thomas & Mack for Kory Koontz in 2018 and 2019. He’s roped the past two years with Travis Graves and they have become a dynamic duo with superpowers. Next up in heading is Erich Rogers, who won the world title in 2017. He is roping with Thomas & Mack Center rookie Paden Bray. They won the NFR championship last year at Globe Life Field in Texas, but Paden has yet to throw his loop at the NFR in Vegas.
Kaleb Driggers has competed at the NFR eight times and half of those he’s been the reserve champion. He’s been so close. He and Junior Nogueira are reunited after making partner switches last year and the beginning of this year. Their names are on the fast times of team roping at 3.3 seconds and that happened in Las Vegas. Junior leads the heeling category and it would be awesome to see them win gold buckles as a team. Junior has earned about $15,000 more than Kaleb has so for them to win it together means other teams are going to have to stub their toes.
Clay Smith and Jade Corkill both have experience getting gold buckles in Las Vegas. This team has roped smart all year. Clay Tryan and Jake Long are next on the list and while the header has a buckle (or three) here, the heeler is still working towards his first.
If TNT ignites in Las Vegas, we will have the first member of the legendary Yates family getting the gold. Tyler Wade has been heading for Trey Yates for most of the year. They have both had their best regular seasons in their careers. The last time Trey qualified was in 2018. He roped with Aaron Tsinigine and they won the average. There are so many great teams that have history together, then there is everyone’s favorite cowboy, Derrick Begay, who qualified in seventh. His partner was outside the top 15, so instead of roping with Cory Petska, Derrick will be teamed up with Riley Minor whose brother Brady also missed the cut.
The rookies – While I can’t technically call Clint Summers and Quinn Kesler NFR rookies, they are first time qualifiers in the heading. Clint roped her in 2018 behind Erich Rogers. This year he qualified in eighth place and will be doing the heading for NFR rookie Ross Ashford who is in ninth.
Quinn’s first qualification was in 2016 heeling for Matt Sherwood. Then he made it back again in 2018 with Rhen Richard. This year he switched to heading and helped Caleb Hendrix win Rookie of the Year in the heeling. However, Caleb came up short for the NFR, so Quinn will be roping with Joseph Harrison.
The final duo of first timers have done most of their roping together this year. Coy Rahlmann is the youngest competitor at this year’s NFR. The Missouri man has roped like a veteran all year and has gotten plenty of advice from world champ Paul Eaves who also grew up in Missouri. Eaves has also been a mentor for Coy’s roping partner Douglas Rich who is the first native of Illinois to qualify in the roping.
The favorites – Oh boy oh boy oh boy. When the NFR was in Las Vegas in 2019, there was a mix of newcomers and veterans. The veterans have it this year. World standings leader Shane Hanchey was second behind Haven Meged (11th) in 2019. Shane won the NFR championship last year in Texas and finished third. He’s had a great year and that should continue through the next 10 rounds. But he has a target on his back.
Westyn Hughes falls into that Thomas & Mack rookie category, but this is his second qualification. He ropes for first every time. He’s in second ahead of the man wearing the 2020 gold buckle, Shad Mayfield. Shad has yet to have a great NFR and this could be his year. If he catches fire, he’ll be hard to stop.
Caleb Smidt has two gold buckles. Two months after he won his first one, his son Cru was born. Two months before winning his second, his daughter Myla joined the family. He has a newborn again, son Chaz, so if history repeats itself, he’ll leave Las Vegas with his third championship. Smith starts in fourth place. Right behind him is another multiple world champion, Tuf Cooper. Tuf was having a great season – was the high money winner over the Fourth-of-July – then injured his hand. He missed a month of rodeo but is healthy and ready to go for the gold again.
Marty Yates has to come into the conversation of favorites. He’s won so much money in Las Vegas, and he keeps the action exciting for sure. He grew up roping with the goal of catching with two swings. He’s never changed that style and when it works, it’s awesome. When it doesn’t, it’s heartbreaking. Marty finished second behind Shad Mayfield last year and this could be his year to catch 10 calves and win a gold buckle. His great horse Buster is healthy and loves the atmosphere in Las Vegas almost as much as Marty does.
The rookies – Can silver spurs get you a gold buckle? You bet they can. There have been many contestants through the years that have been awarded the silver spurs for winning the Reno Rodeo and have gone on and gotten a world title the same year. That’s what Justin Smith is hoping happens for him. He comes into his first NFR in 8th place, so much better than the past two years where he finished in 17th and 18th, respectively. John Douch was 16th in 2019, 30th last year and finally found himself inside the top 15 this year. Douch lives in Joe Beaver’s hometown and Joe has been his mentor for quite some time.
Iron sharpens iron — That saying about iron sharpening iron could be used with every event at this year’s NFR. To be the best, compete against the best and that is exactly how this competition is shaping up.
My prediction – it’s going to be edge of your seat, down to the 10th round competition.