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Steer wrestler Riley Duvall comes from a long line of great bulldoggers and hazers. His great uncle, Roy Duvall, is a three-time world champion who owns the most NFR qualifications in the discipline. His dad is Sam, his uncle is Spud and his cousin is Tom, and all three have played their game at the NFR.
Sam, Spud and Grandpa Bill Duvall also have been known as tremendous horsemen and hazers, and Riley is following suit. At this yearâ€™s NFR, Riley Duvall is serving as hazer for three cowboys: Bray Armes, Hunter Cure and Matt Reeves.
On Wednesday night, Reeves won the round, and Armes placed second. They then paid Duvall $4,169 for his percentage of their winnings.
Through seven nights in Las Vegas, Duvall has added nearly $15,000 to his bank account. All three of his bulldoggers say Duvall is a major piece of their success, and in watching him work Wednesday, you can see why heâ€™s here. Heâ€™s at the top of his game.
LAS VEGAS â€“ The nastiest group of saddle broncs at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo werenâ€™t that tough for Cort Scheer.
On Wednesday night, Scheer rode four horses in order to post an 80.5 score during the seventh go-round, collecting a check worth $11,118 to make it all worth it. He now has earned nearly $37,000 at the NFR with three rounds remaining.
So what happened?
Scheer, 27, of Elsmere, Neb., was originally matched with Rosser Rodeoâ€™s Hat Stomper in what cowboys call the eliminator pen â€“ they are the hardest-to-ride horses bucking at the NFR. Hat Stomper, though, didnâ€™t have his kind of day, so Scheer was awarded a re-ride since the horse didnâ€™t allow the cowboy the opportunity to score well.
That same thing happened again â€¦ two more times. About 20 minutes after the close of the round Wednesday, Scheer climbed over the golden chutes inside the Thomas & Mack Center on C5 Rodeoâ€™s Biff, and the duo danced across the arena dirt for the third-place score. It was a big move for Scheer, who placed for just the third time.
Whatâ€™s most important is that Scheer is one of just two cowboys to have ridden all seven horses, matching Texan Jacobs Crawley. Still, Scheer is No. 1 in the all-important average race with a cumulative total score of 548 points, seven ahead of Crawley. The NFR average title is the second most coveted championship to win in rodeo, just behind the world championâ€™s gold buckle.
Itâ€™s also valued at $47,776, so thatâ€™s big, too. The Nebraska cowboy is seventh in the world standings, having earned $126,690 through the combined earnings of the regular season and the NFR. He trails world standings leader Jake Wright by $30,215. While the top prize in the average would enable Scheer to pass Wright, the Utah cowboy is third in the average, which, if he stays in that position, would pay $30,649.
So Scheer needs a little help if he is to claim his first world title. Heâ€™d like to collect his fair share of the $60,096 go-round purse each of the three nights and cash in with the big average check.
Thatâ€™s his focus for the final three rounds of this NFR. Itâ€™ll be worth the ride.
LAS VEGAS â€“ Tyler Willis took a deep breath, then excelled. It was a sigh of relief.
On Wednesday night at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the Wheatland, Wyo., bull rider marked his first qualified ride of this yearâ€™s championship, scoring 74.5 points on Rafter G Rodeoâ€™s Barabbas to finish fifth in the seventh round. He pocketed $4,808.
â€śI felt a lot better going in last night than when I started,â€ť said Willis, now in his second qualification to ProRodeoâ€™s championship. â€śMy finals wasnâ€™t going the way I planned, so I just started from scratch.â€ť
The NFR features only the top 15 cowboys in each event, and Willis earned the right to be in the City of Lights because of how well he competed through the regular season. He earned better than $75,000 heading into the 10-day championship, so he knows what it takes to stay on the backs of the nastiest bucking beasts in the business.
So when he failed to do so for the qualifying eight second through the first few nights of the NFR, Willisâ€™ confidence was shaken. He had to reach down into his gut, and reflect on the season, to gain that swagger back.
â€śItâ€™s just remembering what got you here,â€ť he said. â€śAlso the other guys in the locker room were trying to be so supportive. Everybody wants everybody else to do good, so you just keep trying and doing what you did all year long to get here.â€ť
Riding bucking bulls is tough in the first place, but Willis admitted that he was trying a little too hard. In an athletic competition, especially a championship like this, the mental game can help or hurt. So what was the main difference to Wednesday night?
â€śThe main thing is not thinking about it,â€ť said Willis, who says his sponsorship agreement with Wyoming Tourism and Cowboy Outfitters USA is what helped him succeed throughout the year. â€śI was trying too hard, and my muscles were too stiff. Last night, I was riding more like I need to ride.
â€śThe biggest mistake is over-thinking things. It can be pretty simple, but you can make it pretty hard on yourself, too.â€ť
Now that heâ€™s found the formula that works, the Wyoming cowboy hopes to follow that same approach heading into the final few nights of the NFR.
â€śIâ€™m down to three rounds, so itâ€™s just one bull at a time,â€ť he said. â€śIt doesnâ€™t matter what bull I get on. Iâ€™m just going to go at it like I did last night and see how it works.
â€śI donâ€™t have anything to lose, and thatâ€™s fine with me. Iâ€™ll just try to win.â€ť
LAS VEGAS â€“ How tough is it to rope steers in Las Vegas?
Through seven go-rounds of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, only one team has caught all seven steers. Only two other teams have caught six.
For Jim Ross Cooper of Monument, N.M., and his heading partner, Brandon Beers, itâ€™s the nature of the beast. Theyâ€™ve scored times in five rounds so far, including a 7.3-second run on Wednesday nightâ€™s seventh round. It was good enough for sixth place and worth $3,005. In all, each roper has pocketed $17,839.
Why is it so danged tough? The NFR is ProRodeoâ€™s premier championship, and it features only the top 15 contestants in each discipline from the 2013 regular season. But the competition is set up as a challenge, so even the best in the business will be tested each round for 10 nights each December.
The arena in the Thomas & Mack Center is roughly the size of a hockey rink, so there isnâ€™t much space to maneuver two horses and a steer. Three head of livestock going as fast as they can makes for some quick times, but also some fast moves to make it work.
Still, Beers and Cooper â€“ sons of world champions â€“ have a solid footing heading into the final three nights of the competition. They are sixth in the average race with a seven-run cumulative time of 40.8 seconds. Beers is sixth in the heading world standings with a little more than $115,000, while Cooper sits fourth in heeling at $123,023.
Can they make a run at this yearâ€™s team roping gold buckles? They have three nights to make it happen, and in Las Vegas, anything can happen.