Paden Bray was nervous as he looked out over Globe Life Field's massive red-dirt arena at his first National Finals Rodeo, but when he teed off on a classic Erich Rogers spin, all that fear was gone.
Rogers, the 2017 World Champion from Round Rock, Arizona, and Bray, the 2019 Resistol Rookie of the Year from Stephenville, Texas, won the first round of the 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo with a 4.8-second run, underscoring Bray's place among the best heelers in the business in his first appearance at rodeo's Super Bowl.
"I was kind of freaking myself out a little bit," Bray, 22, said of his first Finals appearance. "I was a little nervous. But it was pretty exciting. I was in the box looking at Erich, and it was like slow motion. I was focused, but everything was zeroed out and it was slow motion."
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Rogers, from his point of view, was a touch nervous himself when he saw his heeler deliver.
"He normally doesn't throw that far," said Rogers, who's roping at his 10th Finals, laughing. "It was a little scary, because whenever he sent it down there, he was a little farther than normal. But the steer hit fast, and Paden, he's got ice in his veins. You can't rattle him. There's no way you can rattle him. He's watched videos and videos and studies the game really, really good. Once we teamed up, it was like roping with another veteran heeler back there. He didn't worry about it. I talked to him and coached him through the summertime and got after him about some shots, but other than that, he's been a true veteran in heeling. It's been amazing, especially giving him the opportunity to catch as many steers as I can turn for him. He's been phenomenal."
[Related: 2020 NFR Steer Report: Round 1]
[Read More: Game Time: Team Roper's Guide to the 2020 NFR]
This year, the PRCA has not yet announced the go-round payouts, as it's dependent on the crowd size for the Finals. But the teams will receive the same points as they would have won money in Las Vegas, so Rogers and Bray walk away with 26,230.77 in year-end standings points—moving them to fourth and third in the world, respectively, with 88,772.34 each on the year.
Bray credited the little sorrel gelding he rode with the horsepower to get the job done from a tough spot. He calls the horse Slider, but he's registered as EM Magic Bar Eleven by EM Bar Eleven out of Magic Bette Bars by Ginomagic Man.
"My Pawpaw back home, he couldn't make it here because of his sickness, but he picked that horse out of a crop of colts and we halter broke him. Then, Marty Becker put about nine months training on him, and then I've rode the horse for literally nine years and he's 12 now. So it's pretty special. And the head horse Erich rode this summer, we picked him out of a crop of colts and my dad trained him. So it's pretty cool to have two good horses and the bloodlines and more so for the family."
Rogers tapped Ken Bray and Logan Olson for his mount for the night, an appendix-bred 2007 mare registered as DMO Sand Drifter. "Sandy" is a daughter of Dash Ona Drifter—the stud Rogers rode at the Finals a few years ago—and is a maternal sister (out of the Fixin To Win-mare American Big Winner) to the buckskin horse Nick Sartain rode at his last NFR appearance.
"They're partners on her," Rogers said. "Ken said I could ride Sandy or Woodrow, and we made a last-minute decision there. The Bray family has supported us with horses, and it's been a blessing for me. Especially to get on another good horse. It's pretty awesome."
[Read More: NFR Cattle: Full-Contact Steers for 2020]
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Standings leaders Luke Brown and Joseph Harrison split second and third with Dustin Egusquiza and Travis Graves with 4.9-second runs, while Clay Smith and Jade Corkill were fourth with a 5.1-second run. Brenten Hall and Chase Tryan, who were first out, stopped the clock in 5.2 seconds for fifth, and Cody Snow and Junior Nogueira finished out the placings in sixth with a 5.7-second run. TRJ
1. Rogers and Bray, 4.8, 26.230.77 each
2/3. Brown and Harrison, 4.9, 18,192.31 each
2/3. Egusquiza and Graves, 4.9, 18,192.31 each
4. Smith and Corkill, 5.1, 11,000 each
5. Hall and Chase Tryan, 5.2, 6,769.23 each
6. Snow and Nogueira, 5.7, 4,230.77 each
Simpson and Carroll: 6.1
Flenniken and Worley: 6.7
Wyatt and Lord: 6.8
Masters and Thorp: NT
Crawford and Medlin: NT
Clay Tryan and Long: NT
Ward and Hawkins: NT
Lovell and Eaves: NT
Schmidt and Koch: NT