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Crunch Time: 2023 NFR Round 8 Cheat Sheet
Nine-time NFR heeler Cesar de la Cruz breaks down how the best teams in the world have been doing.

The last three rounds of the 2023 NFR are crucial. We tapped nine-time NFR heeler Cesar de la Cruz to see how the best in the world have been doing and what they need to do to clinch a gold buckle or win big money.

15. Jake Clay & Tyler Worley

Round 7: NT

Round Winnings: 0

Total NFR Earnings: $26,744

World Standings Earnings: $136,871.50; $130,727.46

Average: 14; 31.7/4

World Standings: 15

de la Cruz’s take: I’m happy for Tyler Worley for getting into the NFR. He’s having a little bit of a tough Finals, but he earned a spot here and it wasn’t given to him. I feel like he is going to finish strong. I think he’s been a little frustrated, too, but nowhere in the world can you go rope one steer for $30,000. So I think he knows that and he’s a family man, so I think he’s going to take advantage of that. And Jake Clay, he started his career as a heeler coming out here and prorodeing and stuff, and he made a switch to heading and I’m really glad to see that just because there’s a lot of young talented heelers out there, but only a few headers that could head like him. I’m happy to see Jake Clay get over here to the Thomas & Mack; I’m proud of that boy for that. Jake Cooper Clay and Tyler Worley are going to make the Finals several times in their careers. I know this is kind of a little tough Finals for them, but I promise you it’s not going to be their last one.

14. Marcus Theriot & Cole Curry

Round 7: 5.7

Round Winnings: $7,924

Total NFR Earnings: $28,725

World Standings Earnings: $140,888.89; $133,712.06

Average: 11; 33/5

World Standings: 14

de la Cruz’s take: Marcus and Cole got by a really tough one, and they were a 5. Those are good boys right there. I know Marcus really well and Cole, I just kind of got to see him these last couple years, but I’ve seen Marcus quite a bit just because he’s just a talented guy—he can do anything with rope, and he’s got a super great attitude. They’re talented, they’re smart and they ride good horses.

13. Clay Smith & Paden Bray

Round 7: 4.0 *Split Round 7

Round Winnings: $24,433 

Total NFR Earnings: $42,757

World Standings Earnings: $155,912.14; $151,313.45

Average: 9; 26.4/5

World Standings: 13; 12

de la Cruz’s take: They came into the Finals in different spots. I knew Clay when he was a heeler and then when he made his transition to be a world-class header. He’s struggled a little bit, but, really, you can’t ever count that guy out. They won a day money last night, and they got themselves kind of in a little bit of a groove. I really like Clay Smith’s horses he’s rode, Chief and Apache. Paden’s riding a really cool horse, Brady Minor’s, that’s just an old veteran. And to be honest, it really helps to have a veteran horse over here because of your emotions and you’re trying so hard. It really helps to have a horse that’s solid and that knows where to go and where to be every single time. That’s why Paden chose to ride that horse because that horse, he’s just right on the money and in position every single time. You can kick him, you can do whatever you want to with your left hand, but he’s going to wind up in a perfect spot every time. That’s what I really like about that horse.

I’m happy that they got teamed up together because Smith’s a world-class header paired with a world-class heeler. They got on a role last night and they’re going to finish strong, I have a feeling.

12. Tanner Tomlinson & Patrick Smith

Round 7: 4.2 + 5

Round Winnings: $4,953

Total NFR Earnings: $31,202

World Standings Earnings: $159,907.66

Average: 4; 46.2/6

World Standings: 12; 11

de la Cruz’s take: They’ve been struggling just a little bit. Patrick is riding the heel horse of the year and that horse is really, really good and really consistent. I feel like he’s got a couple other horses in the barn there, so I don’t know if he’s going to stay on Turbo or get on another one. That’s what Patrick is kind of known for. He’s rode some really, really world-class horses in his career. I do feel like he’s maybe not getting up the arena far enough, though. They’re still pretty close to the average and that’s what you need. I know some of these guys are struggling, but right now, Round 8, 9 and 10 are the very most important rounds. You have to finish strong. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a barrier or legs. The average, as long as you got them all caught, it’s going to keep you in a good spot.

11. Erich Rogers & Paul Eaves

Round 7: 4.3 + 5

Round Winnings: 0

Total NFR Earnings: $30,706

World Standings Earnings: $160,360.04; $160,711.36

Average: 13; 27/4

World Standings: 11; 10

de la Cruz’s take: They got a day money the other day, which I’m happy for. They’ve had a few mistakes, but they’re a very, very fast team. They’re going to kind of be some spoilers for some of these guys that need to get some day money, because those guys will have nothing to lose right now. They’re going to be going at every single steer as fast as they can. They’re re both world champions, so you’re in trouble over there if you make a run and those guys are behind you. Rogers is my neighbor in Casa Grande, Arizona. He’s such a good guy and a world-class header. He’s kind of had a few mistakes, but I think he’s known for finishing really strong. Paul, he’s such a good guy. When he was rodeoing his rookie of year, I gave him a couple rides to a few rodeos and he’s just a solid guy. His whole career he’s roped really great. He’s got two heel horses at the NFRR this year; it’s just amazing to see his heel-horse lineup.

10. Rhen Richard & Jeremy Buhler

Round 7: 4.3 + 5

Round Winnings: 0

Total NFR Earnings: $45,564

World Standings Earnings: $179,048.30

Average: 7; 50.8/6

World Standings: 10; 9

de la Cruz’s take: Rhen has a lineup of head horses. He’s got a nice little breeding program going on and he’s got some of the best head horses in the world. That team, they’ve been struggling just a little bit, but they’re still right there able to get some good money. Rhen throws a head rope like a football if you can just send it. So he’s very, very dangerous for the day money with as fast and as far as he can throw. That’s a really nice heel horse that doesn’t make too many mistakes out in the field that Jeremy has. And to me, Jeremy’s been one of the most consistent heelers in the last few years; he doesn’t miss very many cattle at all. And I think right now at this point, the last three nights, we’re in the fourth quarter now and it’s kind of close to the end. So they’re going to probably be trying to get as much money as they can before the NFR ends. Being able to look out for those guys for some day money, too, that’ll really help their average to kind of climb a few spots if they hit a day money or two.

9. Derrick Begay & Colter Todd

Round 7: 4.0 *Split Round 7

Round Winnings: $24,433

Total NFR Earnings: $32,357

World Standings Earnings: $180,472.69; $195,639.89

Average: 1; 47.4/7

World Standings: 9; 4

de la Cruz’s take: I’m so happy that they got a [round] buckle. Those are my two favorite headers of all time going at it and showing the best in the world that they can do it, and I’m so happy that Colter’s out there. They got a really good steer out of that pen of cattle, too, and they really took advantage of that because that pen of steers in Round 7, we’re going to see them again in Round 10. They’re a very difficult pen of steers, at least the tough end of them are. But they drew a really nice steer out of that herd and really capitalized on them. So proud to see that and happy for those guys.

8. Coleman Proctor & Logan Medlin

Round 7: NT

Round Winnings: 0

Total NFR Earnings: $43,583

World Standings Earnings: $187,070.71 each

Average: 15; 45.1/4

World Standings: 8

de la Cruz’s take: Coleman and Logan shattered an arena record the other day. It was a controversial call. I’m a heeler, so I’m going to give the tie to the runner every time. But that team right there, they know that they can be 3.1 in this building, so they’re going to go out there and try to be 3.1 every single time from here on out. I’d really be on the lookout for that team. The next two nights are the good steers. I know Coleman was upset, but I think he could do that again. I know Logan could do it again. I’ve always thought Logan was a world-class roper, and he really is. He’s proved it the last 10 years he’s been right there.

7. Luke Brown & Hunter Koch

Round 7: 5.1

Round Winnings: $12,877

Total NFR Earnings: $80,728

World Standings Earnings: 

Average: $188,480.61 each

World Standings: 7

de la Cruz’s take: Luke is the warrior. Luke’s pretty much been out here my whole career, so to see him still out there, I’m so happy for him and he’s doing really good. He’s roping really sharp. He’s got kind of a nice little roll going on, and I can’t say enough good things about Hunter. He’s one of my good buddies. When he was coming up to the rodeos, he was just a young kid and he was sharp right off the bat. I knew he would make it and he rides really nice horses. I expect that team right there to finish strong, too. They kind of have a groove going. I think these next couple pen of steers are really, really nice. He saw Coleman Proctor and Logan Medlin shatter the arena record and got called out for a crossfire, but I imagine you’re going to see another short three in the next couple nights with the pen of steers that they got.

6. Dustin Egusquiza & Levi Lord

Round 7: NT

Round Winnings: 0

Total NFR Earnings: $42,097

World Standings Earnings: $190,445.48 each

Average: 12; 26.3/4

World Standings: 6

de la Cruz’s take: Dustin and Levi were one of my favorite teams to watch in the regular season because they were so fast. Dustin has one of the coolest head loops and fastest head loops in the game. I feel like sometimes over here, if you don’t get a good start, it’s hard to get back on track. I’m hoping those guys, because they’re such a fast, dynamic team, can be in the low threes pretty easy as well. I hope they can get on a roll these last three nights. I think Levi has one of the coolest heel loops out there. He throws a really fast heel loop, and when it hits the legs, it comes tight awful fast. I really like the way Levi ropes and if they can get connected, they’re super fast team and the kind that can be low threes.

5. Kaleb Driggers & Junior Nogueira

Round 7: NT

Round Winnings: 0

Total NFR Earnings: $23,030

World Standings Earnings: $193,174.33 each

Average: 10; 31.4/5

World Standings: 5

de la Cruz’s take: Kaleb and Junior are another one of my favorite teams just to watch as a fan these last few years I haven’t gone to any rodeos. Obviously, the last couple years they’ve been the champions and they’re not going to go down without a fight. They’re going to battle it out for the day monies. And both of those guys are the fastest in the world going together. You don’t want to count them out. There’s enough money to win and if they can capitalize on that, I think they will at least give themselves a fighting chance. They’re not going to go out without a fight. I know that for both those guys, they’re both warriors.

4. Tyler Wade & Wesley Thorp

Round 7: NT

Round Winnings: 0

Total NFR Earnings: $31,202

World Standings Earnings: $196,127.36; $213,354.63

Average: 5; 46.7/6

World Standings: 4; 2

de la Cruz’s take: I love those guys. TWade has been doing such a great job. I’ve watched that guy’s career from the very start and watched him develop into a really sharp header. He’s using his head this week. He probably didn’t have the best break-in session of the cattle; he looked a little frustrated when he was breaking the steers in a little bit. But right when he got to rodeo time, he hasn’t made any mistakes. I’m proud to see that. Thorp, they drew a tough steer last night and if you draw the tough end of these steers, it’s like that. I call those steers the eliminator pen.

3. Nelson Wyatt & Jonathan Torres

Round 7: NT

Round Winnings: 0

Total NFR Earnings: $41,355

World Standings Earnings: $196,437.80; $146,263.62

Average: 6; 50.1/6

World Standings: 3; 13

de la Cruz’s take: Nelson is still trying to fight for a gold buckle right now. If they can draw a really good steer and place really high in the day money and then play some defense to keep or better their spot in the average, that’s really, really going to help Nelson out for the gold buckle. Jonathan has been doing such a good job taking the smart shot. They’ll take a fast shot when he needs to or take another swing over the back. They went out last night, but I think that Nelson is just a fast enough header and Jonathan heels really good right now that they’re still dangerous for the day money. And like I said, if they catch the next couple steers after that, Nelson’s in good shape for gold buckle.

2. Andrew Ward & Buddy Hawkins

Round 7: NT

Round Winnings: 0

Total NFR Earnings: $76,766

World Standings Earnings: $201,531.23; $201,531.23

Average: 31.6/6

World Standings: 2; 3

de la Cruz’s take: Andrew and Buddy are one of the most consistent teams out there. They’ve had a few mistakes, and Vegas is not as fun when you’re not on a roll. They’ve been getting a few caught but had a few mistakes. Buddy, he’s had a mistake here and there, but he’s a very consistent heeler. Andrew, he turns so many steers and he’s very, very smart and calculated. I’m really curious to see how them guys finish up. They can go fast and they’re the fastest team in the Thomas & Mack. They’re consistently fast, so I’d be keeping an eye on that team, too, and in the day monies because they have nothing to lose now.

1. Clint Summers & Jake Long

Round 7: 4.0 *Split Round 7

Round Winnings: $24,433

Total NFR Earnings: $116,551

World Standings Earnings: $227,074.61; $240,575.85

Average: 8; 24.4/5

World Standings: 1

de la Cruz’s take: Clint and Jake are on a rampage right now—they’re the hottest team right now. They’re just on a roll. It’s hard for the average person to understand that the Finals, if you don’t have a good start and you don’t get on a roll, it’s hard to get it back on track. And those guys are on a roll where they can make a mistake and then, bam, come right back the next round and win the round. And they might have a mistake again and then win another round again. I can’t say enough good things about Transmission, bred by Wes Adams and the Adams boys back in the day. That horse has been such a good horse his whole career. He just knows how to rope, he’s a quarterback. It’s really helping their team out so much because he stands like a rock, and Clint can get the go that he wants. That horse is strong, so he squares the steers up, but not too aggressive with them, and then he pulls in the face, and that’s why they’ve been able to be so fast every night is that head horse is really helping Clint be the best quarterback that he can be out there. They can win a gold buckle strictly on just day monies. And that would be pretty cool to see too. They’re not slowing down because I think they both feel that’s their best chance just to let the dice roll every night.

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