Competing in their first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is stressful enough for first-time contestants, but two bull riders have even more riding on their performances this week.
Texans Cooper Davis and Elliot Jacoby are in the midst of a battle for the PRCA Resistol Bull Riding Rookie of the Year award as they climb aboard the world’s top bulls at the Thomas & Mack Center every night. This is the first time in my 10 years here that I can remember a rookie of the year prize coming down to the wire like this, so fans watching the rodeo in Las Vegas the last few rounds have an added treat.
Since the average pays so much, the race for the coveted buckle awarded to the rookie of the year will likely go down to Round 10. Davis, who finished third in the third round, second in Round 7 and has three qualified rides, holds a considerable lead in the head-to-head showdown with $109,240 in season earnings.
Jacoby, from Fredricksburg, is on the outside looking in with $76,548. He finished fifth in the opening round, but has been bucked off six consecutive bulls heading into Round 8.
“I’ve just got to turn it around, and I’ve still got more rounds,” said Jacoby, who won or shared first place in five rodeos this year. “It can be really good the next (few) rounds. They give a lot of money away here, and you’ve just got to stay on your bull, have fun and do what you’ve been doing all year that got you here.”
When I talked to both cowboys before Round 7, neither one is spending too much time concerning themselves with the rookie of the year race.
“I’m not really thinking about that,” Jacoby said. “I’ve just been thinking about my bull each night and just making the whistle. If you do your job and do what you’re supposed to do, the rest will play out in the end in your favor.”
“I’m just trying to stay on my bulls, and I’m sure Elliot has the same mindset,” said Davis, who hails from Jasper. “Whoever stays on more bulls at the Finals is what it’s going to come down to, so I’m just going to have fun and stay on.
“It’s not going to be the end of the world if I don’t win. I’d like to, but it’s not going to change anything.”
What they are doing is enjoying being part of the world’s richest rodeo, taking in all of the experiences with a smile and having fun along the way.
“It’s really exciting being a rookie coming in here,” Jacoby said. It’s just awesome to make my first National Finals.”
Davis won’t soon forget what it was like riding in the first grand entry before the opening round.
“My heart was pounding, and it was cool,” he said.
Climbing into the famed yellow chutes at the Thomas & Mack Center was also a thrill for Davis.
“It’s something I’ve dreamed about ever since I was a little boy, and being here and actually getting in those chutes is pretty awesome,” said Davis, a five-rodeo winner this season. “All of it’s been a blast for me.”
Jacoby is enjoying himself as well, but would be much happier if his first Wrangler NFR had gone better so far.
“It’s been fun being here, but what really gives me (satisfaction) is staying on,” he said. “That’s really what makes it fun for me. If I’m not riding or staying on, it’s not much fun.
“It’s a good experience being here, and I’m glad I made it. But if I’m not doing my job and doing what I’m supposed to be doing, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating when you don’t ride, but other than that, it’s probably one of the best experiences of my life.”
For Davis, it took him a few rounds to settle down and get to business in Las Vegas.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming,” he said. “The first few nights, I was really nervous. But I think I’ve settled down, am having fun and doing what I know how to do.”
Apparently, the duo has had a laugh about their ongoing battle.
“We’re pretty good friends,” Davis said. “We laugh and joke about it. If he wins, or I win, it’s just pretty cool that two rookies made it (to the Wrangler NFR).”
Yes, yes it is.