CLARENDON, Texas – It was the fall of 2020 when Cole Franks made a couple of goals for himself.
He was a sophomore at Clarendon College in his hometown, competing on the rodeo team for his father, Bret Franks, the program’s coach. He also had just purchased his card, allowing him to be a full-fledged member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association instead of a permit-holder.
He wanted to win a college championship for his team for the 2020-21 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association season and hoped to add the PRCA’s Bareback Riding Rookie of the Year title.
The missions were accomplished in multiple ways over the summer run of rodeo. Franks dominated the bareback riding race at the College National Finals Rodeo and also qualified for the championship round in saddle bronc riding to win both the bareback riding and all-around titles in Casper, Wyoming. He also was a major part of the reason the men’s team title went to Clarendon.
Within a few weeks of that, he’d earned enough money to have clinched the rookie crown. He finished with $77,393 in earnings, leading the field by nearly $45,000. With that, though, he added another major accomplishment to his list by qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo. In fact, he’ll head to Las Vegas for ProRodeo’s grand finale as the 12th-ranked bareback rider in the world standings.
“Making the finals is really great,” said Franks, 20, now a junior at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri. “When I got my card this year, I wasn’t focused on it or even looking at the finals this year. I was just looking at the rookie deal and banking on making the finals next year. For it to happen this year is really cool.”
It happened because of relationships he’s developed in his time in ProRodeo. He joined two NFR veterans – three-time world champion Tim O’Connell and 2020 average titlist Jess Pope – on the rodeo trail and gained some education because of it. As Franks moved his way up the bareback riding money list, O’Connell and Pope offered the idea of a switch in priorities: Focus on making the NFR, and the rookie race would come.
That’s exactly what happened. Along the way, Franks picked up some big victories. In fact, he finished the 2021 campaign with 13 event titles and had three rides of 90 points or better, all of which came the same week in early August. He started out the week by scoring 92 points on Three Hills Rodeo’s Spanish Feathers to win in Carson, Iowa.
A couple days later, he followed that with a 90 on Pickett Pro Rodeo’s Bar Code to win the first round in Dodge City, Kansas, advancing to the championship round at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame event in western Kansas. On Short-Round Sunday, he set an arena record by spurring Frontier Rodeo’s Gun Fire for 93 points, one of the highest scores of the season in the PRCA.
Born in Guymon, Oklahoma, Franks is the second generation of his family to advance to rodeo’s most prestigious event; Bret Franks was a three-time NFR qualifier in saddle bronc riding. Cole Franks proves the genetics come strong in their athletic form, but so does the love for the game.
He was two months from being born the last time his dad played on the biggest stage in ProRodeo. He’s only seen videos and heard stories, but that never curbed his hunger to be one of the best cowboys in the sport. Like his dad, Cole Franks likes riding bucking horses. He uses a bronc saddle some, especially in college, but he’s excelled using a bareback rigging.
“It’s cool to think I’m following in Dad’s footsteps, even if it’s in bareback riding and not bronc riding,” said Franks, who credits much of his success to his sponsors, Cinch, Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, Western Legacy Co. and 287 Ag. “I have always told myself that I had to make it at least three times, tying Dad’s three. But I want to make it to where I have three (world championship) gold buckles to put with Dad’s three back numbers.”
By transferring to Missouri Valley, he’s positioned himself to only improve upon his skills. The college is well known for its bareback riding prowess, and Franks will be one of four bronc busters with ties to the college performing at the NFR, joining O’Connell, Pope and Tanner Aus for the 10 nights of action from Dec. 2-11 in Las Vegas.
“Bareback riding is just more of a fight,” Franks said. “I wouldn’t say I’ve always had a fighter’s personality, but I’ve always wished I was in a way. I think that’s what made me stick with it because of the aggressiveness of it. In the bronc riding, you have to be relaxed to a point, but in bareback riding, it’s 100 percent bare down.”
It’s the perfect fit for the young man who won’t back down from a fight with a 1,200-pound bucking beast.