In the heat of the moment, after realizing they had just won the first-ever World Series of Team Roping’s American Cowboy #10, Justin McMillion and William Evans stepped off their horses to walk across the RFD-TV’s The American stage. At the center of AT&T Stadium’s arena floor, they were almost speechless while reporter Amy Wilson gave them the interview of a lifetime.
When it was time to step away from the crowd and the noise and into the media room, McMillion and Evans couldn’t even think about where they left their horses, or even if they were tied up. McMillion could only focus on his shiny new buckle with tears of joy in his eyes. They were both ready to be with their families to celebrate what they had just accomplished.
“I just can’t believe it,” McMillion uttered.
Ohio’s McMillion and Kentucky’s Evans won the roping—the first of its kind—with a time of 35.51 seconds on four head, splitting $70,000.
“I just wanted to go out there and do my job, let my heeler throw his rope.” McMillion said. “He did it and we finished. We were just going for a check. I’m just happy to be taking it back East with us. It means a lot. I’ve got a baby on the way. It’s going to help out with everything to just keep entering and having fun—doing what I love.”
Backing into the Priefert boxes at the AT&T Stadium was a dream come true for these ropers, facilitated by the World Series of Team Roping’s American Cowboy tournament-style concept. Despite the nerves and excitement, McMillion and Evans went in there making one of the best runs of their life.
“You know, it’s a little chaotic back there, and you’re just not wanting to be late,” Evans said. “When you get in there and you back in everything just blacks out and you just go do your job. Honestly, I don’t even remember throwing my loop. I can’t wait to see the video and refresh my memory. It will probably make it real.”
Despite the blacked-out memory, McMillion and Evans were 8.26 seconds on their short-round steer, but they still had one team to sweat.
While Evans left the arena after their short-round run, McMillion was stuck at the stripping chute with a front-row seat to watch how the last run of the roping would unfold.
“It was nerve-wracking,” McMillion said. “I was still at the strip chute when they ran their run. They actually looked like they had their steer roped, and the heeler just lost him. I thought we ended up second until I saw that the heeler lost the legs.”
McMillion rode Montana, his 19-year-old bay gelding, to give Evans a good handle on the little red steer.
“That’s just my all-around horse,” McMillion said with tears in his eyes. “My kids (10 and 5) ride him at the youth rodeos. I keep saying I’m going to retire him.”
Evans’ has a deep connection with his 15-year-old sorrel mare, Cracker.
“I’ve had that little mare for 15 years now,” Evans, who paused to fight back tears thinking about his special mare, said. “I made her. She’s a nice little horse that does her job. She probably caught that steer for me. She’s special. We can’t go up and down the road without them. When you own a horse for 15 years and you put the time and effort into them—the vet bills, the feed—it pays off. Does it pay for everything, no, but the memories and the emotion in front of this, there’s no words or money that could explain it.”
For both ropers, the fact that guys like Clay Tryan and Junior Nogueira approached them to congratulate and encourage them was simply icing on the cake.
“Junior came up to me and just said, ‘do you’.” McMillion, who farms for a living, said. “It was just unbelievable. Being able to rope in the same pen as those guys, and in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, it’s unbelievable.”
McMillion and Evans got their qualification spot at John Johnson’s JX2 NTRL Finals in Florida. Then they ran their last three steers before advancing to The American at the #10 American Cowboy NRS Rope-Off in Decatur, Texas, where Evans’ kids surprised him by flying in to watch him rope.
“We entered down there and had our match roping in Florida,” Evans said. “I like the match roping. I think it’s awesome. It gives everyone a chance to get here. Decatur was an awesome facility. The cattle have been outstanding everywhere we’ve been. They didn’t set it up for failure. My daughters had threatened to show up when I told them I was going out there (to the Decatur shootout). They kind of let it go. Then on that Thursday, we were in the practice pen, and they came walking down the driveway. They showed up and spent the rest of the weekend with us.”
“In Decatur, after our first run it just seemed like I was really going to do it,” McMillion said. “The first run just felt so perfect. Everything just came together run after run. They announced us as high call and one run later we got bumped to second high call. When the roping was finished we were sitting right where we needed to be to give ourselves a chance at it.”
McMillion and Evans have been roping for many years after running around in the same circle, attending Johnson’s JX2 ropings and local round robins.
“He goes to all the ropings that I go to,” Evans said about McMillion. “He only lives about an hour and a half away from me. He puts little ropings on so I go up there. We’ve been roping together for quite a while. We don’t practice together, per say, but when we’re at the same place we do rope together. He’s really consistent and we do good together.”
When you ask McMillion what he is going to do with his share of $70,000, he says he’s going to keep entering and put it toward his new baby on the way. Evans on the other hand is putting it toward a new horse to help him and Cracker down the road.
“I’m going to go find something that fits me and try to move on up and continue this journey,” Evans said. “It’s what we chase. Once it’s in your blood, it’s there, and now it’s not going to be easy to quit.”
When interviewed weeks later, McMillion and Evans both still can’t quite believe what happened that day in AT&T Stadium.
“I went back and watched it on TV and slow-mo-ed it and everything,” Evans said. “It’s kind of hard to believe, to be honest. When they have the split screen and the commentary, it’s what you dream of. You back in the box in the practice pen and that’s the scenario you dream of. To sit down and watch it, it’s surreal. You try to pick it apart but, it was just a smooth, businessman run. We didn’t rush anything and just went out and caught, stopped the clock and let the chips fall where they will. In our level, it’s basically what you do. You love to leave the arena in first place and let everyone come after you. But it was a nice run. My header set it up for me really nice—gave me the same shot he’s been giving me all year and we made it work.”
Evans credits his roping lifestyle to his wife, Kriston, who helps him keep his horses healthy and keeps him going down the road.
“My wife is my biggest supporter,” Evans said. “She takes care of the horses and makes sure that they have their shots and papers. She makes sure that we know where we are going down the road. She does everything but throw a rope. She videos and goes to practices religiously. She’s 100% with me.”
Evans mentioned that he was going to put his money toward a new mount to help him and Cracker down the road, and he did just that after the JX2 The Big Ticket roping in Tunica, Mississippi.
“I actually bought one on the way home from Mississippi,” he said.
McMillion also attended the USTRC and World Series in Tunica where he sported his brand-new American Cowboy #10 buckle.
“I wore it to Tunica, but now it’s going to be put up and not be worn most likely,” McMillion said.