Cooper: Obligation to fans, family drives me to excel

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of guest columns that will be featured on the NFR Insider page on NFRExperience.com from time to time leading up to December’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Two-time World Champion Tie-Down Roper Tuf Cooper is the son of ProRodeo Hall of Famer Roy “Super Looper” Cooper, as well as the current world standings leader who is headed to his seventh consecutive Wrangler NFR. Here, the beloved cowboy gives insight into his back-to-back world championships from 2011-12 and his feelings about his duties as a role model.

BY TUF COOPER

The 2011 season was the first time I ever went into Vegas in the No. 1 spot.

Vegas has always been good to me in the past, and going in with the No. 1 spot gave me a lot of confidence before the first round started. My horsepower was really good that year, and I got to ride one of the best horses that’s ever been in that setup, Jaguar.

Through the 10 rounds, I didn’t win all of the money possible, and it got interesting for a few rounds. But when it was all said and done, winning a world title is something you achieve at that moment that sticks with you.

It took some time to really realize it, even though it was the only thing I’d thought about ever since I was 12 years old. You have goals of winning multiple world championships, and once it happens once, you want to stay on the same path and keep winning another one every year after another.

Tuf Cooper says he's having more fun this year than ever before and leads the world standings heading into the Wrangler NFR.

Tuf Cooper says he’s having more fun this year than ever before and leads the world standings heading into the Wrangler NFR.

I told myself since I was 16 that I was going to win the world, and once it happens, part of you expects you to do it because you’ve believed in yourself and because of all the hard work you’ve put in. The other part is just completely thrilled out of your mind that you just won a world championship. You can’t believe it, and you’re so excited.

Then, you get the buckle a month later with your name on it, and you want to wear it immediately. You’re like, “Man, I can’t believe I get to put a world championship buckle on with my name on it.”

Kaycee Feild and I both won our first world titles that year, and it’s kind of weird how often we’ve been linked together through the years. The first year I made the Finals in 2008, I always thought it was cool whenever Kaycee and I would win the same rodeos during the year that year and other years.

It was awesome being the world champion in 2012, because I got to represent not just my event, but my sport at the highest level. It was the first time I got to do that, and so I made sure that every rodeo I showed up at I stayed focused on not just representing myself, but also the PRCA, the sport of rodeo and the event of calf roping.

It was great being announced as the reigning world champ, but in a way it didn’t mean as much because it doesn’t have any impact on the next season. Wherever you are during that season, you’d better be doing well since you’re the world champ. You’d better act like it and rope like it.

The 2012 season was a good one, but then in the fall I had all three of my good horses went down. So, I just had a good, young 5-year-old horse, and some other ropers helped me by letting me ride their horses at the end of the season.

Justin Maass had been winning and leading the standings all year long. I wanted to get that No. 1 spot all year long, but he was winning and doing well every weekend.

That really pushed me every day to really figure out a way to win. I dang sure prepared and trained like I was winning second.

I was in second place all year long, and going into the Finals I think I was $20,000 behind. I don’t remember what round I took the lead, but it was a tight race all the way to the 10th round.

He roped phenomenal all year long, but I think that was the best year I ever had with total money won, and it was a good race. Having him out front, it pushed me to just want to keep getting better at calf roping and not just maintaining what I had.

It really helped my attitude. It made me really try to get better at roping, focus and not take anything for granted.

With the opportunities I had starting on the first night of the Finals, I knew I wasn’t going to get them again. So, I really tried to stay focused on doing the best I could.

Tuf Cooper looks up to a number of rodeo legends as role models. He spent some time talking with ProRodeo Hall of Famer Ty Murray earlier this year at a photo shoot in Las Vegas.

Tuf Cooper looks up to a number of rodeo legends as role models. He spent some time talking with ProRodeo Hall of Famer Ty Murray earlier this year at a photo shoot in Las Vegas.

I’m leading the world standings this year, and to win three gold buckles in four years would be awesome. It would be in line with my goals, and it’s something I dream about every year.

Everybody who’s ever roped wants to win the world every year, and three out of four wouldn’t be horrible.

You have your daily goals, your year-end goals and your ultimate goals about what you want to be. My daily goals are usually to win the rodeo I’m at, the yearly goal is to win a world championship, and the ultimate goal is to be the best calf roper that’s ever lived.

As long as I stay focused on those three things every day and make decisions based on those goals, I’ll be fine. I definitely have a better opportunity to do all that roping calves than anybody’s ever had, just because of what my family offers me every day.

I’ve been put into the best situation anybody’s probably ever had, and I’m here to make sure I don’t let the family down that’s given me that opportunity. I don’t want to let my dad down, or Trevor Brazile, Stran Smith or my brothers down, because they help me just as much as they help themselves every day.

It’s no pressure, really, and if it is pressure, it’s the best kind you can have. I have fans telling me that I’m a Cooper and Coopers are supposed to rope well, and they know that Trevor is my brother-in-law so they expect me to do well when I nod my head.

It’s more them giving me confidence to win, and no matter what situation you’re in or where you come from, you’ve got to be positive.

I’m blessed to have even one person follow me, and it makes me really excited every day that somebody would want to look up to me or see what I’m doing on Twitter or whatever. I know it’s a job, so I’ve got to do the best job I can of being the best role model I can for the little kids following me.

Tuf Cooper has a dedicated fan base and always makes time for his fans. Here, he enjoyed helping a special friend at the Wrangler NFR Exceptional Rodeo in 2011.

With one of the most dedicated fan bases in ProRodeo, Tuf Cooper always makes time for his fans. Here, he enjoyed helping a friend navigate her way through the Wrangler NFR Exceptional Rodeo in 2011.

I’m blessed and really thankful to have that opportunity to be somebody who’s looked up to. I know it’s my job to be the best role model I can be, and I try to make decisions while thinking about that.

When I’m practicing, I know my fans expect me to be the best I can and push it hard, and it makes me want to practice harder. It also makes me try to make the best decisions outside the arena, because somebody is always watching.

It’s just so important for me and my career where it’s at right now to remember the role models I’ve had and people I’ve looked up to since I was young and still look up to. My heroes are the people I’ve looked up to and wanted to be like and the ones I used to watch videos of on YouTube to see how they competed and carried themselves.

That played such an important role for where I am today, and I know it’s that important for me to be the right role model for little kids who want to grow up and put themselves in my shoes. And if you look up to the wrong people who are not headed on the right path, how are you going to be able to go in the right direction?

After last year’s Finals and finishing fourth in the world, I decided that I wasn’t going to do anything unless it was productive and fun. If it’s not, then I don’t want to do it.

Tuf Cooper will likely be bombarded by interested media again this year at the Wrangler NFR as he goes for gold buckle No. 3.

Tuf Cooper will likely be bombarded by interested media again this year at the Wrangler NFR as he goes for gold buckle No. 3.

This has been the most productive and fun year I’ve had. I’m enjoying every second of my career and my job right now.

You can make it fun, or you can make it not fun, and it’s really up to you in rodeo and in this industry. So, I’m making sure I’m having a blast every day.

Cooper led the world standings heading into the 2011 Wrangler NFR, placed in five rounds there and finished with $192,042 in season earnings. That was $18,266 better than second-place Matt Shiozawa. The following year, Cooper overcame injuries to his horses to chase down world standings leader Justin Maass after finishing second in the Wrangler NFR average to finish with $232,885 for the season. That was $35,291 more than Maass’ final total and gave Cooper his second consecutive gold buckle.

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