DUNCAN, Okla. – Stockton Graves is no spring chicken, but he still acts like one from time to time.
If he competes this December at the National Finals Rodeo for the eighth time in his career, he’ll be 10 years removed from his last qualification. During that 10-day stretch, from Dec. 2-11, he will turn 43.
He’ll have plenty of reasons to celebrate, too. There are only a handful of steer wrestlers older than 40 that are able to compete at an elite level, but Graves has proven over time that he’s quite capable. This year is just a bit different than recent years, and he sits firmly among the top 10 in the world standings. He hasn’t seen that in a long time, but that’s been of his own choosing.
Since he took over as the rodeo coach of his alma mater, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, in 2011, Graves has opted to stay closer to home. He’d venture out a bit, but his focus was on helping others make their NFR bids. Two years ago, it was J.D. Struxness, a three-time qualifier who in 2016 became the first Northwestern cowboy to win the college national title.
Last year it was Bridger Anderson, who became the second Ranger to win the national crown in 2019. This year, it seems, nobody is stopping the old man, who is the No. 1 man in the Prairie Circuit’s bulldogging standings with just a few weeks left in the circuit’s regular season.
He has a lead of more than $5,000 over the second-place man, Riley Duvall, and should lead the charge of steer wrestlers for the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15-Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Stephens County Arena in Duncan.
The Prairie Circuit is again loaded with top bulldoggers, just as it has been since the circuit system was put into place 46 years ago. The region, made up of contestants and rodeos primarily in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, has featured many of the top steer wrestlers in rodeo, from the Duvalls (Riley is the third generation of the family to compete at the NFR) to Ote Berry to Ricky Huddleston to Jason Lahr to Jule Hazen.
That list can go on and on, and Graves deserves his place in there. He’s having a phenomenal year, one that was unexpected when the season began. Once he won the bulldogging title in San Antonio this past February, he and his wife, Crissi, opted to make a run at returning to Las Vegas. He’s a virtual lock for the NFR, and that’s a good thing.
Of course, when he arrives in Duncan, he’ll be in his comfort zone. He’s won the circuit finals average title multiple times in the last 10 years it’s been in this southern Oklahoma community, and he’s added even more year-end titles to his accomplished belt.
It’s almost like he’s returning home.