LAS VEGAS – Cole Franks is pretty reserved on a daily basis. He doesn’t have a lot to say, but even the news he learned at the National Finals Rodeo left him virtually speechless.
“Wow,” he said after learning that he finished his rookie season with $227,422 in earnings. “That’s crazy.”
He sat stunned after earning $150,029 over 10 nights in the Nevada desert, aided in large part by finishing third in the aggregate race after riding 10 horses for a cumulative score of 860 points. It was an incredible way to conclude his inaugural season in the PRCA.
“I don’t have the words to put to it,” said Franks, 20, of Clarendon, Texas. “It is definitely not what I expected when I started the year. It is life-changing money. It sets you up for years to come.”
He was just talking about his NFR earnings. It’s all gravy for the cowboy that almost didn’t get to compete on the rodeo trail after a rough winter and early spring because he didn’t have much money earned. If it hadn’t been for a big payday in San Angelo, Texas, he might not have had the success he had: Rookie of the Year and third place in the final bareback riding world standings.
He finished his first trip to ProRodeo’s grand championship with an 85.5-point ride on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Dirty Jacket. Though he didn’t place, his score helped him maintain his spot in the average, which paid him $44,414. His traveling partner, Jess Pope, won the average title and just shy of $70,000 by having the best cumulative score.
Franks grew up idolizing some of rodeo’s greats. His father, Bret, is a three-time NFR qualifier in saddle bronc riding, but he also has handy friends who own bareback riding world championships: Mark Gomes in 1998 and Jeff Collins two years later.
But money has changed considerably in the last two decades since those men were awarded their gold buckles. Gomes finished his world-title campaign with $143,000, which is less than Franks earned over the last 10 days alone.
“I’ve always said it would be cool to compete against those guys back in the day,” he said. “Looking back at that, I’d much rather be now.
“It’s crazy how much it has changed. We are athletes, not just rodeo cowboys. Tim (O’Connell) and Jess said that a lot this year. That really hit home. Rodeo has turned into rodeo athletes, not just cowboys anymore, and it shows.”
The money will spend, but the memories made will last a lifetime. Franks is still in awe of his experience in Las Vegas and his magical season that included three college titles – bareback riding, all-around and part of the champion’s men’s team at Clarendon College – and enough money to buy a nice place in his hometown.
“It sets up everything for here next year,” Franks said, referring to another NFR qualification. “That’s the top goal for next year. Once I get here next year, the first goal is to get a gold buckle. I want to get that and more will come after that.”