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Bulls, Broncs, and Breakaway

Sam Huston State's Cody Teel rides Blended Skies in the first matinee performance on Sunday afternoon to kick off the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper. (Tim Kupsick/Star-Tribune)

In less than two weeks, cowboys and cowgirls from across the country will once again arrive in Casper to compete in the College National Finals Rodeo.

This year’s rodeo, which is June 9-15 at the Casper Events Center, marks the 15th consecutive year the CNFR has been held in Casper. And with the CNFR scheduled to be in Casper through at least 2022, there’s no doubt that college rodeo’s showcase event has found a home in the Windy City.

National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association commissioner Roger Walters said two years ago student-athletes told him they wanted to “make it to Casper,” and didn’t even mention the CNFR. That’s because they no longer have to; in college rodeo circles Casper has become synonymous with the CNFR.

Consequently, the Events Center has served as a sort of training ground for some of the sport’s most successful cowboys and cowgirls. Take a look at the current Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association standings and it’s safe to say that a majority of those athletes competed at the Events Center before earning their PRCA cards.

A prime example is the PRCA world bareback bronc riding standings, which are filled with former CNFR champions. In fact, four of the last five CNFR bareback champs – Kaycee Feild (2008), R.C. Landingham (’09), Ty Breuer (’10) and JR Vezain (’11) – are currently in the top 15 in the world standings. Last year’s champ, Tanner Aus from Missouri Valley College, is No. 50.

Feild, who competed at Utah Valley State College, is also the two-time defending world champion, while former Vernon College standout Will Lowe has won three world titles; 2004 CNFR champ Ryan Gray (Odessa College) is a seven-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier.

There’s a similar pattern in other events.

Bull rider Cody Teel won the 2011 national championship competing for Sam Houston State University and added a world title at last year’s NFR. Last year’s CNFR bull riding champ, Tag Elliott of Utah Valley University, placed 13th in the world standings last year and is currently 12th in the PRCA standings.

And both Dustin Elliott (Chadron State College, 2001) and Matt Austin (Hill College, 2005) added world championship buckles to the CNFR titles – Elliott in 2004 and Austin the following year.

In saddle bronc riding, two former CNFR winners – Taos Muncy of Oklahoma Panhandle State University (2007) and Jacobs Crawley, the 2011 champ from Texas A&M University – are both in the PRCA top 15, alongside 12 others former CNFR qualifiers.

That list doesn’t include Spencer Wright, the latest Wright brother to enter the world saddle bronc standings. Wright, who will compete in his first CNFR this year for the College of Southern Idaho, is currently No. 15 in the PRCA standings. All five of his older brothers, including two-time world champ Cody and defending world champ Jesse, rode at the Events Center while competing for the College of Southern Idaho.

There’s a good chance Spencer Wright won’t be the only competitor at this year’s CNFR making a name for himself on the professional circuit in the not-too-distant future.

In other words, for those of us who won’t be in Las Vegas in December for the NFR, the best place to watch pro rodeo’s future stars is probably at the Events Center in two weeks.

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Contact sports reporter Jack Nowlin at 307-266-0528 or jack.nowlin@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @CASJackN

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