Behind The First-Time NFR Qualifier Hunter Koch
Last December, Hunter Koch attended his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas as a spectator, thanks to a ticket given to him as a gift from his grandma. While standing in the shuttle line to leave the Thomas & Mack Center after the rodeo, Koch snapped a shot of the building. He set the goal right then and there to rope at the Finals, and has since used that picture as the screen saver on his phone as a daily reminder. Koch, who’s a 22-year-old native of Vernon, Texas, will heel at his first NFR next month.

Q: Who all have you roped with this year?

A: I roped with Bubba Buckaloo this winter, and it was awesome. Bubba did a great job, and gave me a lot of good opportunities. We placed at Denver, placed in a round at San Antonio and made it to the finals at Houston. I started roping with Cody Snow at Logandale (Nevada) the first week in April (while Wesley Thorp was home for the birth of his and wife Susanna’s second son), because Bubba didn’t want to go to California. Cody and I roped through Clovis the end of April. Roping with Cody was one of my favorite parts of this year. We won some kind of check at every rodeo we went to—Logandale, Oakdale, Red Bluff and Clovis (California). We won the first round and the average at Clovis. I had a great time jackpotting out there in California, too. I won almost $30,000 at five jackpots.

Q: You’ve spent most of the season heeling for Matt Sherwood. How and when did you get hooked up with him?

A: Our first rodeo together was Tucson in February. Bubba didn’t want to go, and Matt was roping with Tyler Worley, who didn’t want to go, either. Matt and I had never even met before. We had a little luck at Tucson, then decided to go rope at a few Canadian rodeos. We started roping together full time at Reno in June.

[LISTEN: The Short Score: August 6 with Matt Sherwood and Hunter Koch]

Matt Sherwood and Hunter Koch first joined forces at La Fiesta de Los Vaqueros in Tucson, Arizona, in February, and have been a force to be reckoned with in 2019. Hubbell Rodeo Photo

Q: How much fun has that been?

A: It’s been awesome roping with Matt. If you could draw a picture-perfect partner, it would be him. He’s a gamer, he ropes amazing and he’s a winner. Matt’s just a great all-around guy. His positivity level is through the roof all the time. I couldn’t ask for anything better, especially out here going hard for the first time. We were struggling and having a tough time the end of July, and didn’t win much for two or three weeks. The first week in August, when everybody else was at the bigger rodeos, we went to eight small rodeos. We turned it around that week and won $14,000.

Q: Sherwood’s 50 now and you’re 22. Your styles obviously sync up great in the arena, but is there any sort of generation gap in your truck?

A: Roping with Matt has been such a blessing. There’s a lot to handle out here. Matt shows me the ropes and the way. Matt likes to listen to the ’80s on 8 station on Sirius XM Radio. Every now and then I try to switch it to Prime Country Radio, but he switches it back. 

Q: Does Sherwood sing?

A: No, he sits there quietly. He’s a listener.

Q: You won about $24,000 last year as a rookie. Who’d you rope with and how hard did you hit it?

A: I started roping with Billy Bob Brown at Reno in June, and we roped until Dodge City (Kansas, the first week in August). Then I went home.

Q: You’re going to rope at your first NFR next month. Talk about when that fun fact first hit you, and also please name your previous career highlight.

A: My previous career highlight was winning the All American Finals and $9,500 in Waco (Texas) this winter with Billy Bob. The first time it hit me that it was possible I was going to make the Finals is when Jade Corkill told me congratulations and that he was happy for me before we roped in the slack at Walla Walla (Washington, the end of August. Two-time Champ of the World Sherwood and Koch ended up second in the average at Walla Walla).

Q: What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from Sherwood?

A: Matt never tells me what to do, but I’ve learned so much watching him and how he does things. Everybody knows he’s a good person and respects him. He has a winner’s attitude, but is never arrogant. Just being a class act sums up Sherwood to a T.

Cody Snow and Hunter Koch roped at a few rodeos this spring, and won money at all of them, including the win at the Clovis (California) Rodeo. Hubbell Rodeo Photo

Q: Who taught you how to rope?

A: I’m the first generation in my family to rope. No one in my family roped before me. When we were young, my parents built my little brother (Kash is 18) and me an arena at the house. We were self taught, so we weren’t very good. There was a 70-year-old man, Gary Jacobs, who lived in Vernon and trained racehorses for a living. He lived right down the road from the high school, so I’d walk to his house after school and gallop racehorses for him, and he helped me learn to team rope. We headed and heeled for each other, and other guys were always around there to head for us, too. Rich Skelton lived in Gary’s basement when Rich was going to college at Vernon. I live in Stephenville now, but still consider Vernon my hometown.

[READ MORE: Pro Rodeo Results Wrap-Up: Sherwood and Koch Win $12,835; Driggers and Nogueira Earn $10,912 and MORE]

Q: You went to Vernon Junior College, too, right?

A: Yes, I went there for two and a half years—in 2016-17 and a semester in 2018—and got an associate’s degree in agricultural science. I learned a lot about ranch management and wildlife science.

Q: You have about $10,000 more won than Sherwood. I know it was not a done deal down the entire backstretch that Sherwood was in. How stressful was that?

A: Getting to rope with Matt at the Finals means everything to me. That was the only thing I was focused on in September—just doing my job to get him there. He has a pretty good track record in that building, and there is no greater guy or partner than Matt Sherwood.

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