LAS VEGAS – In only his second year in ProRodeo, steer wrestler J.D. Struxness has had some amazing experiences already.
Nothing was bigger than what the young cowboy experienced Thursday night during the first round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. The nerves, the anticipation and the joy of competing in ProRodeo’s grand finale all came together in one swift motion during the opener.
The 21-year-old Minnesota cowboy pushed through all the obstacles before him, threw his steer down in 4.6 seconds and left the Thomas & Mack Center $5,500 richer. He finished in a tie for fifth place in the round with fellow NFR rookie Cody Cabral.
That’s vital at the NFR, even if it’s one of the lowest payouts on the night. Cashing checks in Vegas is what helps catapult cowboys toward the top, and the goal is to finish the 10-round championship at the top of the money list in order to be crowned the world champion.
Struxness has pushed his season earnings to $99,935. More importantly, he trails world standings leader Tyler Waguespack by just $19,000. With go-rounds paying more than $26,000 to the winner each night, Struxness could move into the top spot with a first- or second-place finish during Friday’s second go-round.
The Appleton, Minn., cowboy is no stranger to big championships. As a high-schooler, he qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo seven times in four season – four in tie-down roping and three in steer wrestling. Just this past June, he clinched his first national title by winning the bulldogging at the College National Finals Rodeo.
In fact, should he pull off the feat, he could become just the fourth cowboy in the sport’s history to have won a college title and a world championship in the same event in the same calendar year.
But there is a long road ahead of him, and it winds through Sin City at a precarious rate. That’s the nature of the NFR. Only the top 15 contestants in each event qualify for the championship, and all will battle for the biggest purse in the game. Every cowboy and cowgirl has a chance to leave the Nevada desert with more than $200,000 earned over 10 magical nights.
For now, though, the young Minnesota cowboy – who attended Missouri Valley College and is a senior at Northwestern Oklahoma State University – will focus on his next opportunity to cash in. That mentality helped him earn his first NFR qualification and guided him to the college championship already.
It’s bound to keep working in Las Vegas.