LAS VEGAS – It didn’t take steer wrestler Kyle Irwin long to reflect on his 2014 season.
Just moments after making his final run at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on Saturday, the Robertsdale, Ala., cowboy knew he’d lived a magical season, including $88,000 earned over 10 December nights in Sin City.
“It was everything I have ever dreamed of and everything I thought it would be and more,” said Irwin, 24, who attended Western Oklahoma College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University on rodeo scholarships. “It was a great experience, and it did something for me nothing else could have: It’s got me wanting to get back here.”
He should. The NFR is the sport’s grand finale, and only the top 15 contestants in each event earn the right to play for the biggest pay in the game. Irwin finished the campaign with $147,699, second in the world standings in a field that included many Las Vegas regulars. It was an outstanding performance for a first-time cowboy.
He placed in six go-rounds and earned at least a share of the go-round win on three nights – he split the second and eighth rounds and won the third outright. His cumulative time of 60.7 seconds on 10 runs was fourth best.
What did he learn most from his experience?
“Winning and losing, if that makes sense,” Irwin said. “I knew I had the talent and the capability, but once you put yourself in this situation with 14 of the best, you test yourself. I knew I could do it and believe in myself, but it’s still a test.
“Losing is going to help me mature. I’m not going to say if I didn’t make a few of the mistakes I made this week I would’ve been the world champ, because Luke was tough this week, but it would’ve made things a little more interesting. It gives me a little more humbling experience to go home and work on some things and do a little fine-tuning for when we come back.”
He plans to return, but he proved over the season why he earned the right to compete among steer wrestling’s elite.
“This is big for my family,” he said. “My family and my hometown was already behind me, but now we just took it to another level. It was great to share this experience with my family and my friends.
“I’m honored to get to do that again and already look forward to doing it again next year.”