LAS VEGAS – Pinch Kyle Irwin all you want; he’s not waking up from this dream.
On Thursday during the opening night of the 2014 National Finals Rodeo, the Robertsdale, Ala., cowboy wrestled his steer to the dirt in 4.1 seconds to finish fifth place in the first round, pocketing $4,904 in the process.
It was a heck of a way to kick-start his inaugural NFR.
“I was real proud to get to represent the state of Alabama,” he said. “I was real proud to get to represent myself and everything that we’ve worked so hard for. I’ve put in the effort, time and dedication to back in the (timed-event) box and get ready to run one for all these fans and everybody watching at home.
“It was the greatest feeling I’ve felt in the rodeo industry.”
Irwin, who competed in collegiate rodeo at Western Oklahoma College and Northwestern Oklahoma University, pushed his 2014 season earnings to $64,640 and moved up one spot to ninth in the world standings – in rodeo, dollars equal points, and the contestant who finishes the full season with the most money won will be crowned world champion.
He remains more than $32,000 behind the leader, Nick Guy of Sparta, Wis., who utilized his $19,002 first round-winning check to move into the No. 1 spot. But with paydays like that, the standings can change in a hurry, especially in steer wrestling, which is the tightest overall race of all the events in Las Vegas.
The interesting aspect of rodeo is that all the competitors are also colleagues and assist one another often. That worked out to Irwin’s benefit Thursday.
“The guys told me if I didn’t hit things just right on that steer, he would wad up and cost me a lot of time,” he said. “I knew I needed to try and maybe do things a little different than I normally would. Lucky enough, I have been practicing the last two weeks at Luke Branquinho’s house, so I was prepared for it.”
Branquinho is a four-time world champion from Las Alamos, Calif., who hosted a number of NFR qualifiers for practice sessions leading up to the championship. This is the biggest stage in the sport, and all that work has seemed to pay off.
“There may have been a couple things I could have done differently, but I’m not going to pick the run apart,” Irwin said. “I was 4.1 on my first steer at the NFR, and we have nine more to run.
“I was more nervous today signing autographs for Southwest Truck and Trailer, my sponsors. I guess it was because I was just stuck inside. I enjoy doing it for them and getting out there, but when I got back to saddle my horses, it was different. I guess I had to get a little dirty to calm my nerves.”
And with that inaugural run down, he can bear down on business.
“That first round was awesome,” Irwin said. “This was it. In my eyes, this is the cat’s meow.”