CNFR - Saturday Championships

Tarleton State saddle bronc rider Brody Cress, from Hillsdale, reacts after his 84-point ride in the short go of the College National Finals Rodeo on June 17 at the Casper Events Center.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

Brody Cress had an impressive summer. Now he’s looking to cap off his season with a productive December.

The Hillsdale saddle bronc rider will compete in his first National Finals Rodeo beginning Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The 10-day season-ending rodeo runs through Dec. 16.

“I’m not just happy with being out there,” Cress said last week before heading out to Vegas. “I want to go out there and win as much as I possibly can and just ride as solid as I can.”

The 21-year-old has been doing it all year. He enters the NFR at No. 6 in the world standings having pocketed more than $105,000.

While competing for Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, Cress won five rodeos on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit before coming to Casper for the College National Finals Rodeo. Cress won the short go-round with an 84-point ride and finished third in the average despite getting bucked off in the second round.

“I was kind of mad myself at the CNFR because I made a few mistakes and I should have easily been able to win that,” he said. “But being able to finish it off with a strong ride definitely helped. It made it to where I was really excited to go the rest of the summer.”

Cress, who was No. 41 in the world standings entering the CNFR, climbed into the Top 20 on the strength of an impressive two-week stretch in late July. He won titles at the Red Desert Roundup in Rock Springs, Rodeo Salinas in Kansas and, most impressively, Cheyenne Frontier Days in front of family and friends.

“I was blessed to be winning money every weekend and I was drawing good horses,” Cress said. “So I knew (the NFR) was a possibility. I knew if I just kept going good that in the end I could possibly be in the finals.

“After winning Salinas and then Cheyenne it definitely set in. I was teetering around the Top 15 for a few weeks and I knew I just had to keep going because it was a possibility.”

The possibility became a reality late in the season when Cress won four more buckles in September. He pocketed almost $10,000 at the Pendleton (Oregon) Round-Up and won more than $18,000 for the month.

Cress continued that success into October to start the 2018 PRCA season. He won the All American ProRodeo Finals in Waco, Texas, and currently sits atop the world standings.

“I’ve been trying to keep my mind off the NFR,” Cress said, “but more about just improving and getting as ready as I possibly can so that when I do show up there I can be successful.

“But now it’s getting to where it’s go time, so it’s starting to set in a little more. I’m definitely very excited to go out there and I’m definitely ready for that first night.”

To help him get ready for the rigors of 10 consecutive nights of competition, Cress has relied on some NFR veterans to let him know what to expect.

“I’ve been talking to Sterling and Jacobs Crawley quite a bit,” Cress said of the Stephenville, Texas, natives who have 11 NFR qualifications between them. “And (five-time NFR qualifier) Isaac Diaz probably gets annoyed with me (because) I call him so much. He has been a big influence on getting me prepared.”

Heading into this year’s NFR, though, it’s Jacobs Crawley who has what Cress wants: a world championship. Crawley won his in 2015 and he enters the NFR atop the world standings. He was in a similar position last year, but former Sheridan College cowboy Zeke Thurston, who was No. 4 entering the NFR, won the average and the gold buckle.

Cress would like to follow a similar path.

“I’d like to go out there and win the average and win the world,” he said. “It’s nice that they’ve added so much money, because anybody can go in and come out the world champion. I set myself up in a pretty good spot, but I know I’m going to have to do phenomenal because every guy in the Top 15 is outstanding.

“Through the summer I didn’t get bucked off very much and I’d like to carry that into Vegas and do the same. Just go out every night and try to make the most-correct ride I can and do what I know how to do. I’ve got to go out there and pursue it every night and go at every bucking horse wide open. I’m not going to go in there and safety up at all.”

Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN

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Jack Nowlin returned to the Star-Tribune in 2007 after eight years covering Michigan State University athletics. A Wyoming native, and a graduate of Jeffrey City High School and the University of Wyoming, Jack serves as the Star-Tribune’s sports editor.

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