PERRYTON, Texas – There was a time not long ago that everyone in the Texas Panhandle expected to see Marty Devers at the National Finals Rodeo.
He’s a cowboy, and a couple of decades ago, he was just that good. He was a national champion bulldogger in high school, then parlayed that into two national college titles. Everyone around him just knew he’d be among the top 15 steer wrestlers in the standings battling for the world championship.
He came close, finishing two seasons as the No. 16 man in the final standings, just one spot out of playing for the biggest pay in ProRodeo. Now, Marty Devers will have the chance to witness the NFR up close and personal, but in a much different capacity than he ever realized: He is going to watch is son, Cody, battle for that elusive Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.
“It’s a great feeling to finally see one of my dreams come true,” said Cody Devers, 26, of Perryton, in the northeastern portion of the Texas Panhandle, just minutes from the Oklahoma border in a couple of directions. “I’ve worked at it and tried several different years. I’ve been close a couple of times, so it feels good to get it done.”
One of those was a year ago, when he battled through a COVID-infected season to finish 18th in the bulldogging world standings. Instead of competing at the NFR, he worked it as a hazer for his friend and traveling partner, Jule Hazen of Ashland, Kansas. Now, the tides will be turned, with Hazen offering his assistance when ProRodeo’s grand finale returns to Las Vegas after a one-year hiatus to Arlington, Texas.
“Finishing that close to making it last year definitely motivated me a lot this year,” said Devers, who finished the 2021 regular season 11th in the world standings with $67,715 in earnings; he also won the average championship at the Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo in mid-October. “You think about it a lot. Hazing at the finals last year and getting to watch it but not getting to compete built my fire even more.”
Success isn’t anything new to Cody Devers. He has a pretty powerful rodeo pedigree. In addition to his dad’s attributes, he also gets his genetics from his barrel racing mother, Sabrina. The family-owned Devers Performance Horse is a multi-million dollar horse-selling business that specializes in rodeo event and barrel horses that sell all over the world. The Deverses also host clinics and have hosted members of the Dallas Cowboys to the facility for steer wrestling clinics with Cody. His older brother, Matt, handles technology and advertising for the business.
“My brother and I grew up bulldogging,” Cody said, noting that Matt is two years older. “We both jumped our first steers the same day. We got a little bulldogging horse, and I think I even jumped a steer first. I was 12 years old when I jumped my first one horseback. I absolutely loved it, and he did, too.
“He went to college for a little bit, but he had a good job. Now, he owns his own business, and I’m still out here rodeoing. We both branched out a little bit. He went to the business side, and I went to the competitive side.”
Make no mistake, rodeo is all business. Devers, Hazen and their other traveling partners spend weeks on the road, making a living one rodeo run at a time. Oftentimes, expenses outweigh their profits, but living and working together builds trust and comradery that can last a lifetime. Besides that, there’s no way to make it to the richest rodeo in the world without putting miles on a truck and living-quarters trailer, not to mention adding many frequent flyer miles
It’s been fairly steady ride for the Texas cowboy, though. He filled his PRCA permit in 2014 while still in high school and immediately bought his card so he could compete at whichever rodeos fit his fancy. He left home right out of high school for an education at Garden City (Kansas) Community College, which is coached by a fellow Texas Panhandle bulldogger, Jim Boy Hash.
“It was just an hour and 40 minutes up the road, and I thought it would be a good fit for me,” said Devers, who credits much of his success to his sponsors: Usher Brand Custom Saddlery, Cinch Jeans and Shirts, Old 32 Ranch, Devers Performance Horses, Protech Technologies, Centennial Resource Development and Taco Villa. “I had class Monday through Thursday, and I could practice there during the week. On weekends, I could go home, practice and help do whatever I needed to do.”
He transferred to Northwestern Oklahoma State University, coached by NFR qualifier Stockton Graves, who has earned his eighth trip to the championship this year and will join his protégé in Las Vegas for all 10 rounds, set for Dec. 2-11 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“Stockton was the reason I decided to go to Alva,” said Devers, who finished as the runner-up to the national champion at the 2018 College National Finals Rodeo while competing at Northwestern. “They take bulldogging extremely serious over there, and I wanted to take it just as serious. Look at all the athletes that have come out of there and made the finals. I can name several guys that I went to school with that have made the finals.”
He’s had plenty of training from men who know a thing or two about the game. From Marty Devers to Jim Boy Hash to Stockton Graves to Jule Hazen, there are years and years of experience packed into the mind, body and soul of Cody Devers as he prepares for his maiden voyage to the City of Lights to run at $27,000 per night.
“Those are some great coaches,” he said. “You can ask Stockton absolutely anything, and he can tell you what you need to know. He’s been to every rodeo they’ve ever had. My dad still helps me. Jule has also been to every rodeo. It’s great to have that wisdom and have those kinds of people in your corner.”
Devers will also get a bit of help from his equine partner, Sassy, a powerful 13-year-old sorrel mare he’s ridden for about five years. Just as he has done, he will ride her in Las Vegas because he knows the red racer will give him the best shot for 10 straight nights.
“She was a barrel horse, then she just took to steer wrestling,” he said. “Whenever I started her in bulldogging, I probably ran 30 steers, then I just started entering rodeos.
“From the time I nod my head, I don’t know if there’s a better one out there. She will score, and if I ride bad, she will pick me up.”
Having that kind of trust works wonders for the cowboy’s confidence. He expects to do well, and if foresight is anything, it certainly helps to keep a positive attitude. Rodeo can be a humbling sport, and there are roller coasters of emotions and outcomes that happen in the game. He’s watched some of his closest friends have success, including fellow Northwestern alumnus Jacob Edler, who won the world championship in 2021.
He’ll follow the lead of so many others that have been on the biggest stage in the game before when he arrives in Las Vegas to battle for the coveted title.
“Edler had a tremendous run last year,” Devers said. “He went at every single steer; that’s going to be my approach. The average pays great, but so does that day money. I’m going to go after every one of the steers and make the best run I can make.
“Maybe if you get down to the eighth, ninth or 10th round and don’t have that go-round (winning) steer, then go make a businessman’s run and see what you can do in the average, but for the first six or seven rounds, I think a guy should go at them.”