Darren Morgan and Scot Brown picked up the 2023 First Frontier Circuit heading and heeling titles Jan. 13, 2024, at the circuit finals in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was a benchmark feat for both men as the wins mark Morgan’s 10th and Brown’s first.
Morgan, who headed for Britt Bockius in 2023, won his first circuit title in 2003. Two decades later, the New York farrier has accumulated 20 First Frontier year-end titles—10 in the team roping, nine in the all-around and one in the steer wrestling.
“I feel humble,” Morgan said. “I think that when a person is younger and they win the circuit, you just feel like you set out to do that and you’re going to do it. Now, I’m 46 years old, and we’d like to win the circuit but there’s a lot of young talent and sometimes they rope a little faster. I felt like, ‘Wow, this is really good.’ It’s a sense of accomplishment.”
Brown, on the other hand, is just starting his circuit title collection. The first year-end title for his trophy room came as a surprise; he’d assumed their long time in the second round of the circuit finals had taken him out of the race. But as the No. 3 heeler in the circuit with nothing to lose, Brown and his partner, Waylon Cameron, decided to go at the last round aggressively.
“We were 5.1 and won the round,” Brown, 46, explained. “I went back to the stall, and I was getting ready for the calf roping when one of my best friends came around and said, ‘You just won the circuit.’ I said, ‘You’re crazy.’ I didn’t think I had a chance, but it worked out the way I wanted it to, and I didn’t really plan it because we were just running through rounds.”
Morgan and Brown will team up for the 2024 NFR Open in Colorado Springs come July, and Morgan thinks they’ll make a powerful team.
“It’s a great opportunity and I am looking forward to going out there,” Morgan said. “Scot Brown, he’s aggressive. He likes to heel fast; when you go out there and compete against all those really good guys, you have to have a guy who wants to throw fast and is aggressive. I think that we have just as good a chance as anyone.”
Darren Morgan overcomes adversity to win First Frontier Circuit title No. 20
While 20 year-end circuit titles might seem old hat, this year’s win meant a little more. In February 2022, Morgan lost his wife Danielle to a four-year battle with cancer. He and their 13-year-old son Tanner are practically inseparable, and they’ve chosen to take on life with a positive outlook.
“Everybody has a story,” Morgan said. “Danielle was a huge support system, and we got through that and have just really tried to stay positive and make her proud in everything we do. And I think we’ve done a good job.”
Morgan was again tested at the start of the 2023 ProRodeo season when his good horse died. With one backup horse rehabbing from an injury and another being a little too green, Morgan found himself struggling until fellow First Frontier cowboy Jacob Rounds let him ride his horse Oakley, a gesture Morgan greatly appreciated in his hunt for another year-end title.
Morgan was also extremely grateful for the opportunity to rope with 13-time NFR heeler Bockius, and recognizes how vital Bockius was to his title win.
“His reputation speaks for itself, and I was excited,” Morgan said. “Britt and I had a pretty solid season. It was a little bittersweet at the end because I ended up winning the circuit and Britt did not, but all in all, I would say it was a good season.”
Between his parents Randy and Donna, siblings Shane and Tiffany, in-laws Darryl and Nancy Lane, traveling partners Eric Fabian, Derek Carey, Bockius and Jake Edwards, and friends “Red Beard” and Mike Baker and their families, Morgan has more pride in his support system than in the abundant accomplishments he’s had on the circuit front.
“Rodeo is not who I am, it’s a thing I do,” Morgan said. “The family we have when we go to the rodeos is priceless. It makes me laugh that I didn’t know how many times I won the circuit, and that’s because, at the end of the day, it’s not about how many championships you won or how many saddles are in your trophy room. It’s more about who I met, how many relationships I have and all the friends and family I’ve gained through this sport.”
Scot Brown’s journey to First Frontier Circuit title No. 1
Brown also credits his support team for making his heeling year-end title possible.
“I wasn’t gone like I usually am, but they still allow me to go and enjoy it,” Brown said. “It is a hobby, but it’s a way of life at the same time. I know when I need to be home and when I don’t and I can go. They’re a great support system—I couldn’t do it without them.”
Brown is a Texas native who now calls Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, home. The Brown family originally moved to the East Coast six years ago so the oldest children could attend the Naval Academy. In the Lone Star State, Brown was more of a World Series of Team Roping guy than a ProRodeo guy, but that all changed when he moved to the Keystone State, and it’s been a humbling experience.
“There’s not much a high number guy can rope in out here, so you almost have to rodeo if you want to keep roping,” Brown admitted. “It took a long time for me to fit in (in the circuit), and I enjoy the guys up here and their camaraderie. It’s been a neat experience and something I never thought I would do because I’m pretty heavy Texan. I never thought I’d be up here.”
Brown and his header Waylon Cameron teamed up three years ago. Since then, they’ve figured out their run.
“We’ve had some pretty good years,” Brown said. “Last year didn’t go as we wanted; we came in high team and I feel like we just safetied up too much. I’m better off to just rope. When they turn, throw—that’s my shot, and that’s more what I did this year.”
Come July, Brown will make his second trip to the NFR Open; his first was in 2020 when it was still the Ram National Circuit Finals. Being able to rep the First Frontier Circuit—something he had to adjust to—makes him proud.
“It’s very prestigious,” Brown explained. “I know we’re in the First Frontier, and everybody has their opinions, but there’s a lot of good competition up here. Jake Edwards comes from up here, for one. Heck, there are guys from Florida who come up here all the time, and they don’t always win. It’s tougher than you think. It’s a different area, and I enjoy it.”