HEMPSTEAD, Texas – A new season offers new opportunities and, sometimes, provides a chance at redemption.
With the 2017 regular season ending this past Saturday, many of ProRodeo’s biggest stars are kicking off their 2018 campaign at the Waller County Fair and Rodeo. For steer wrestler Clayton Hass, missing the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in four years has left a bad taste in his mouth. He tried to cleanse his palette Thursday night during the first performance with a 3.8-second run to take the early lead.
“It’s always nice to get off to a good something, and it’ll probably win something,” said Hass of Terrell, Texas, who finished 17th in the 2017 world standings, just $647 short of the 15th spot; that would have secured his fourth consecutive NFR bid. “Missing it by $600 ticked me off a little bit.
“Hopefully we’ll get a little better this winter and get stronger, then come back in full force and be better than it was this year.”
Saddle bronc rider Jacobs Crawley was at the other end of the spectrum. He just capped off his best regular season, earning more than $184,000. His redemption will come in December, when he hopes to close out the campaign in Las Vegas with a second gold buckle, which would match the one he earned in 2015.
“I haven’t even thought about the term regular season,” said Crawley of Boerne, Texas, who rode Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Showgirl for 86 points to take the early lead. “For me, it’s always one rodeo season. I had a great regular season last year, and I came up one bronc short, so I could care less. The regular-season lead sounds really good, but it’s not what I’m after.”
Crawley carried the lead into the 10th and final night of the 2016 NFR, then was bucked off. He finished with a cumulative score of 662 points on eight rides, but four other men had scores through nine rides. That pushed the Texan down the NFR average, which pays a bonus to the top cumulative times through all 10 rounds. He finished $2,831 shy of world champion Zeke Thurston and fell to No. 2.
“This year I’ve got nothing to lose, so it’s a fun place to be,” Crawley said. “The chase isn’t over until the 10th round is over.”
It’s critical to do well in Las Vegas, where go-round winners can pocket more than $26,000 each night. The average champion will add more than $67,000. And in a sport where dollars equal championship points, it’s vital to find success in Sin City.
“Anyone could walk out of there with the world title,” he said, referring to the big dollars that are available at the NFR. “You must have a presence at the NFR to walk out of there with the gold buckle … a round presence and an average presence. That’s what I’m going for.”
Both Crawley and Hass have been regulars at Hempstead’s rodeo. It’s close to home – two hours for Crawley and four for Hass – and it’s always nice to kick-start the new season at a good-money rodeo. It helps to find success on the opening night, too.
“That run wasn’t textbook by any means,” Hass said. “I stayed pulling on my right arm, stayed hustling and it worked out. I’ve had some success here before. It’s good to get started like this at the first rodeo of the year”
Crawley has excelled in spite of some limitations. He suffered a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee about a month ago and is riding through the pain. He will compete this week and next, then begin the building blocks he’ll need to compete at the NFR.
“In two weeks, I’ll take a break for a month and a half, let my knee heal up all the way and be 100 percent by December,” he said.
Maybe it’s just being cowboy tough, but he wasn’t about to let the injury stop him from competing in Hempstead.
“This is a great rodeo; I love Waller County,” he said. “It’s got a good turnout, and they’re trying to make it a better event every year. I’m just a fan.
“If the environment’s right, it makes you want it that much more, and that environment is right here. You have a great dance, a great hospitality, and Pete Carr brings great bucking horses.”
Waller County Fair and Rodeo
Bareback riding: 1. Clint Laye, 80 points on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Big Lights; 2. Paden Hurst, 74; no other qualified rides.
Steer wrestling: 1. Clayton Hass, 3.8 seconds; 2. Riley Duvall, 4.8; no other qualified times.
Team roping: 1. Kaleb Driggers/Junior Noguiera, 4.8 seconds; 2. (tie) Caleb Smidt/Coleby Payne and Clay Smith/Paul Eaves, 5.0 each; 4. Kolten Schmidt/Tyler Worley, 5.8; 5. Anthony Lucia/Colton Brittain, 6.6; no other qualified times.
Saddle bronc riding: 1. Jacobs Crawley, 86 points on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Showgirl; 2. Isaac Diaz, 81.5; 3. Garet Aldridge, 79; 4. Will Smith, 76.5; 5. Toby Collins, 75; 6. Matt McCloy, 68.
Tie-down roping leaders: 1. Clay Long, 7.5 seconds; 2. Caleb Smidt, 9.2; 3. King Pickett, 10.8; 4. Lane Livingston, 12.1; 5. Jason Bell, 23.6; no other qualified times.
Barrel racing leaders: 1. Morgan Breaux, 14.92 seconds; 2. Kimball Lacy,14.98; 3. Michelle Alley, 15.05; 4. Jaime Barrow, 15.52; 5. Kimberly Hintz, 16.30; 6. Kelly Tovar, 20.11; 7. Zoe Brama, 20.14; 8. Brooke Rix, 20.22; 9. Jodee Mill34, 20.82; 10. Megan Mariluch, 21.08.
Bull riding: 1. Clayton Sellers, 83 points on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Son of Sam; 2. (tie) Markus Mariluch and Tristan Mize, 82 each; no other qualified rides.