LAS VEGAS – Sometimes the best way to tackle any challenge is to take advantage of situations.
Team ropers Jhett Johnson and Turtle Powell did that Thursday night, roping their steer in 4.3 seconds to finish in a tie for second place in the opening go-round of the 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo – they matched the same score posted by Clay Tryan and Travis Graves and were just two-tenths of a second behind round winners Matt Sherwood and Cory Petska.
“These steers are tough,” said Johnson, a five-time NFR-qualifying heeler from Casper, Wyo., who competed in college rodeo at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva and Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell. “They haven’t been roped like normal rodeo steers. They’re going to be hard to catch all week. Half the guys missed, so that shows you just how tough it is.
“But it’s just super to come out and start this rodeo well. It means everything.”
The key to success at the NFR, he said, is to continue to be aggressive. He knows he’ll get that with Powell, a header with whom Johnson has roped most of this ProRodeo season but not much before.
“If you back off in an arena this small, they get very hard to catch,” he said. “You saw a few teams tonight thinking about that average, and instead of roping aggressive, it got to them. It’ll come back to kill you. The eighth or ninth round is when you have to start worrying about that.”
The fastest cumulative time through the rugged 10-round championship will be crowned NFR average champion, the second most prestigious title in ProRodeo – the most sought after prize is the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle awarded to the world champion, but the average buckle is pretty special, too. Oh, and the average champion in each discipline will win an additional $45,865 at the conclusion of the NFR.
But Johnson is quite content with the $12,404 he earned Thursday. It’s a great way to start the championship with Powell.
“We have never roped at the finals before,” Johnson said. “This year the steers are a little bit slower. It takes a smarter guy, and nobody has a cleaner head loop, can raise up and be ready more than Turtle. If you have to reach very far, it’s because you didn’t have a very good start, and Turtle gets a good start almost every time.”
The challenge has been set. With eight no-times in the first round, a number of those teams will start taking short-cuts in order to make up time.
“These guys are roping so fast, but in this arena, you need to rope smart,” Johnson said.