The Camarillos and Nogueiras go way back. Fact is, the familial friendship goes all the way back to when ProRodeo Hall of Fame brothers Leo and Jerold Camarillo went to Brazil in the 1980s to put on a roping school and met renowned roper Lucinei Nogueira Sr.
“Another thing I remember about that trip was a calf roping match I had with a kid who roped like Marcos Costa back then,” Leo remembers. “We roped Brahma calves over a short score, and I had to be 7.7 to win the match. I got it done, but I had to get after it to beat him. Good cowboys are nothing new to Brazil.”
Leo and Jerold met Nogueira Sr., who died at 36 backing in the box to rope a calf at a rodeo when his young son, Junior Nogueira, was just 5.
“Who would have thought?” Leo said, when considering the odds that their Brazilian friend’s little boy would turn out to be a worldwide cowboy phenom.
Junior has wowed American rodeo crowds since arrival here a few short years ago, including the 2016 World Champion All-Around Cowboy crown (Leo won the same ultimate title some 40 years before Junior in 1975, in addition to his four gold team roping buckles). On February 25 of this year, Junior and Kaleb Driggers added the $100,000-per-man team roping championship at The American in Dallas.
“One thing that’s really stood out to me about Junior since he got here is how fast he can rope steers and why,” Leo said. “When most heelers are running down the arena, they see steers over to left. Then when that steer gets turned, there’s a blind spot when the steer crosses under their horse and winds up over on their right. Junior’s so long that he can see over those heel horses, and never has that blind spot. He never loses sight of the steer, which is why he ropes so fast.”
After setting the 3.32-second team roping record at The American in the lightning-fast long round, Kaleb and Junior won the final-four shootout in 4.57. Reserve champs Chad Masters and Travis Graves were 5.03. Meanwhile—at 61 and 72, respectively, American Team Roping Legend Exemptions Tee Woolman and Leo Camarillo were a snappy 5.06 in the long round, and brought the AT&T Stadium crowd to its feel, Standing-O Style.
Leo “The Lion” blew kisses to the crowd as he stepped up on center stage to the waving pom-poms of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders during The American’s opening ceremonies that day. “Had I known they were going to make such a big deal out of how old I was, I’d have hobbled up there with a cane,” he laughed. “For a minute there, I felt like the grandma at the rock ’n’ roll concert.
“But the camaraderie of being with those young guys back behind the chutes made me feel like I was supposed to be there. I admire the young guys for their talent, and they were all very nice and very respectful to me. They’ve taken it to another level, and as a fanatic of team roping—and rodeo in general—that’s fun for me to see.”
Crossfiring is allowed at The American, and Junior wasn’t alone in pulling it out of his bag of team roping tricks.
“I invented crossfire,” Leo said. “Then they made it illegal. I have no use for crossfiring now, when all an old man needs to do to win is catch. It’s very rarely allowed these days, and I have no use for it at this stage. But it sure is fun to watch.”
It was Kaleb’s third American title, and according to Leo, “Junior winning The American was just a matter of time.” He says the same about Kaleb and Junior getting the gold team roping buckle sooner than later.
As for roping with Tee on about a week’s notice at The American, Leo says it was just like old times for his partner in two of Tee’s three world championship years.
“It was like stepping back in time,” Leo said. “We worked at it so hard back in the day. Getting back in the practice pen together gave me that same old feeling. We rekindled that fire. I didn’t have any doubts about Tee. I know who he is. I knew he would catch and that he’d try to win first—and he did.”
Leo jumped on a Texas-bound plane when he got the call to rope at The American. And who was the first guy to offer him a ride?
“Junior was the first guy to step up to the plate and offer me one of his horses,” Leo said. “He let me practice on Green Card (the horse Junior rode at The American).”
Leo was so grateful for the offer, but found a better fit in 16-time National Finals Rodeo heeler Martin Lucero’s Gator.
“I used to let some guys ride my horses, but I didn’t let them practice on them,” Leo said. “Martin let me practice on his horse, so I didn’t have to try to beat the kids cold turkey and could get a feel for him. He didn’t charge me anything or want anything in return. He was just a friend, and I owe him forever. That’s a great horse.”
Junior joined Leo and NFR header Julio Moreno for a picture at The American. They were basically re-enacting that old picture of Junior’s dad with Leo and Jerold from back in Brazil, only this time it was Junior with Leo and Julio, who in Jerold’s absence and because he’s also Junior’s friend was the perfect Third Musketeer for the shot.
“Julio came from the IRA, and we kind of finished raising him when he wanted to join the RCA,” Leo said. “Julio’s like family to us, and Julio and Jerold were partners at one time.
“Everything about The American was an amazing experience. Being a sports fan all my life, we never want to lose the Michael Jordans, Joe Namaths, Joe Montanas or Muhammad Alis. I’m a tennis fan, and I keep pulling for Roger Federer to win. He’s past his prime, but he keeps finding a way to win. Father Time is undefeated, as they say, but the true greats are great forever.
“When I got that call to rope at The American, I wanted to make my best possible run and do myself proud. That’s real pressure. It was a great day, and one I’ll never forget. It was fun to be 21 again for one day.”