Luke Brown is All-In on a 14th NFR Back Number
After leading Round 2 at Rodeo Austin with Hunter Koch, Luke Brown looks to be headed to the finals—with sights on the NFR.
Luke Brown and Hunter Koch team roping at Rodeo Austin.
Luke Brown and Hunter Koch lead Round 2 at Rodeo Austin with this 4.7-second run, and look to be headed to the finals on Saturday night. | James Phifer Photo

Luke Brown spoiled us to the point of taking getting to watch him rope at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for granted. With 13-straight qualifications to Rodeo’s Super Bowl between 2008 and 2020, it was all but a given that we’d get to see him back in that NFR heading box every time the most anticipated 10 days of each rodeo season rolled around. We’ve missed the now 48-year-old Rock Hill, South Carolina native in Cowboy Town the last couple years. Will 2023 be the year Las Vegas says, “Welcome back, Luke Brown?”

Brown and Hunter Koch set the bar on Round 2 at Rodeo Austin with a 4.7-second run on Wednesday night, and it stood up through last night’s performance also. If it holds in the top eight through tonight’s perf, they’ll advance to tomorrow night’s eight-team finals, which per Austin format is a one-header that pays four places.

“That steer was a little more than medium, and left there really sharp,” said Luke, who lives in Lipan, Texas, with his wife, Lacy, and their little girl, Libby. “I got a good start, reached at him a little bit and turned him, Hunter heeled him on the second jump or so, and we got a decent finish. That run should probably win about fourth or fifth. There are some really good teams out tonight, and they always do really good in that last set.”

With so many sudden-death and playoff-style formats in play today, strategies have shifted.

“The strategy depends on the format, but I just like to take it steer for steer, and see what happens,” said Brown, who’s a three-time NFR average winner—he won the 2010 Finals with Martin Lucero, and 2013 and ’15 with Kollin VonAhn. “I rope each steer for what he is, but you dang sure need to be there on the last day, because that’s when the big money’s won.”

Luke’s never been a man of many words, and excuses have no place in his vocabulary. Why has he missed the last two NFRs?

Luke Brown has always been at home in the Thomas & Mack in his 13 trips to rodeo’s Big Show. | Impulse Photography

“I just haven’t roped good enough,” he said. “That sums it up as good as anything.”

His expected humble explanation might be that simple, but that does not diminish how much it’s hurt him to sit on the sidelines the last two Decembers.

“I did not watch it (the NFR) at all in 2021,” Luke said. “I refused to watch any of it. Last year, I wasn’t quite as big a baby about it. Not being there is about the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. I missed it bad, and I don’t want to let it happen again. It was too miserable for me.”

Yeah, absence makes the heart grow fonder in this case also. Koch’s roped at two NFRs to date, by the way—he heeled for Matt Sherwood in 2019, and for Kolton Schmidt in 2020.

“I’m as motivated as I’ve ever been to make it back to the NFR,” Luke said. “It won’t be an easy task. Too many people rope good. But our family and friends are all-in to try and help us get it done. Maybe it’ll be God’s will.

“It’s been pretty slow, but it’s been good, too. We’ve only been to five rodeos. We’re going through the motions of what we’ve been working on, and I believe in it and that it’s going to be good. I’m looking forward to California, and am excited for this summer. We’ll just see what happens, and hope for the best.”

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