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The most dominant professional ropers of today were at one time the kids marveling at their heroes who paved the previous path. Now, they’ve taken the torch and are proud to lead the next generation. But who do they admire, and who set the standard for the young-guns of today’s team roping industry—the same way the Camarillo brothers did generations before?

Paden Bray

Hometown: Stephenville, TX

NFRs: 1 (2020)

Paden Bray is following up his first National Finals Rodeo appearance last December, where he and Erich Rogers won the NFR average title, by contending for the world title again in 2021. After their win at RFD- TV’s The American in March and a strong start to the summer run, Bray’s been in the world championship mix all year long.

Cesar De La Cruz’s easy conversation style and warm personality made him a favorite for Paden Bray.

Cesar De La Cruz’s easy conversation style and warm personality made him a favorite for Paden Bray.

“When I was 10 or 12 years old, I started hanging out with Marty Becker, and he’s still like my coach. He and my dad (Ken Bray) have had such an impact on my roping. Marty has been there for me forever, and I talk to him every day. He went to the Finals, and helped me last year. I send him every single video. It’s cool now, because his kids are getting into roping, and he sends me all their videos. It’s special, because it’s kind of full circle,” said Bray, 22.

“I grew up watching and being infatuated with Cesar (de la Cruz) and Jade. Cesar was around the house a little bit growing up, and I always thought he was so flashy, rode pretty horses, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever when he would pull back on two feet. He’d also go out of his way to shake my hand and make me feel like a buddy. It’s been really cool to me that in the last couple years, Cesar and I have mounted each other out on horses at some rodeos. That seems surreal to me.”

Bray is still young enough to really appreciate those who impacted him growing up, and hopes he can return the favor.

“If there are kids that look up to me now, I always remember how Cesar made me feel. He’d let me follow him around, check out his tack room and swing his ropes and stuff. Now, parents come up and ask if their kid is bothering me, and they’re not, because I’m sure I wore a couple guys out asking questions back then. I’ve always looked up to those guys—I remember getting to skip school just to go watch the George Strait (Team Roping Classic), and I got to sit on the little podium right by the heel box where Rodeo Video was filming from. They’d have 500-600 teams, and my mom would buy tacos for lunch and send them down to me with Erich (Rogers, who heads for him now), because I wouldn’t give up my spot.”

Dustin Egusquiza

Hometown: Marianna, FL

NFRs: 3 (2017-18, 2020)

Arguably the most game-changing team roping header in recent times, Egusquiza grew up admiring professional cowboys from both ends of the arena, including guys like Billy Etbauer and Cody Ohl. Originally from Florida, he didn’t have an in-person front-row seat to his professional idols, but he had them nonetheless.

“Professionally, I looked up to Speed Williams, Jake Barnes, and Clay O. I was also a big fan of watching Michael Jones heel. Personally, I always looked up to my dad (Manny Sr., who passed away in April of 2015) and brother (Manny Jr.), who both had a lot to do with where I am today. There have been a lot of people who have had a lot to do with my roping,” says Dustin, who notably dominated ProRodeo’s 2021 Fourth of July run, earning $30,465 heading for Travis Graves.

“My dad provided me with horses and an arena, and I learned a lot of new things by watching. Speedy is the greatest of all time, and was so exciting to watch that I watched a lot of him on TV growing up,” said Egusquiza, the 25-year-old who tied the world record of 3.3 seconds at Oakley, Utah, with Graves (tying Chad Masters and Jade Corkill, Brock Hanson and Ryan Motes, Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira, and Clay Smith and Corkill).

Now that he’s one of the most dominating forces in professional team roping today, Egusquiza still finds mentorship in a couple of the guys he grew up watching.

“I don’t remember how old I was when I met Speedy, but I talk to him a lot. He was living right down the road from me in Texas, but he just moved two hours away. If there’s something I’m not understanding, I can call him up with anything and he will always give me his input. I talk to my brother for advice all the time, too, from horses and roping to life. And the thought of me being in a spot that kids are watching me now is pretty cool.”

Cody Snow

Hometown: Los Olivos, CA

NFRs: 5 (2016-20)

Another professional header leading the new wave of team roping talent is California native Cody Snow. Aspiring to have a complete game and make a living with a rope, Snow has not only worked at that, but also took notice of those who’ve done it before him.

“Headers that I watched and wanted to have a similar style to would be Derrick Begay, Clay Tryan and Jake Barnes. I think all those guys are really good at both jackpotting and rodeoing, and use their horses really good. Their styles are to make runs that you can make over and over again that win consistently,” says Snow, the 24-year-old 2019 NFR average champion.

Even now, Snow holds those same guys he grew up admiring in high esteem.

“I still consider them the best. They know how to win, and they get the job done. Clay is always aggressive and stays in the roping for a chance at winning first. Derrick is the same way. I got to see them rope more, but Jake always blew to them, threw a good head loop and made it happen. I like Clay’s aggressiveness and Begay’s smoothness. Now I look up to Dustin,” Snow said, laughing, referring to Egusquiza’s 2021 highlight reel.

Tyler Wade

Hometown: Terrell, TX

NFRs: 3 (2016, 2018-19)

Known as an unbridled gunslinger to now a consistent reacher, Tyler Wade has transcended his roping by seeing things he likes, adapting those qualities to his own roping, and using lots of trial and error.

“Like most people, I looked up to Speed and Rich, and Jake and Clay. More than just roping, those guys always kept their composure. My dad was a stock contractor, so I’d get to go to the rodeos with him, and I’d see other guys who threw big fits. They’d miss and throw their ropes up in the stands, so I’d go grab them. But I didn’t want to be like that. It’s hard to hold your composure all the time, but those great guys held it together. I’ve lost and gotten mad. I think we all have gotten caught up in the moment rather than the big picture from time to time, but there are kids who watch us now and whether we catch or miss, they think it’s cool we’re doing this,” said Wade, who turned 29 on June 23 and lives in Terrell with his wife, Jessi, and 3-year-old son, Weston Cash.

“Growing up, I thought it was so cool that guys could make a living roping. I saw all those guys from Britt Bockius to Speed and Rich. They were all better than me and were professionals, and that’s what I wanted to be. From time to time as a kid, I’d get to see those guys that I looked up to, but I also became aware that I had to take what worked for them and adapt it to work for me. I am a realist when it comes to roping, and I know what works for me and what doesn’t. But that comes from trial and error. I’m a learn-from-my-mistakes guy. I’ve lost some events before I’ve come back and won them, but I learned in those trying times and figured out what works for me.

“To this day, I do watch guys and what they do good, and try to mold it to work best for me. Some people try to exactly mimic somebody else, but that doesn’t work when we are different builds. I watch how (Kaleb) Driggers is so good at riding all types of horses. I watch Clay Tryan’s scoring, how Dustin (Egusquiza) gets his first swing up so fast, how Chad (Masters) always has a good horse, how Luke (Brown) always catches, and how Trevor (Brazile) gets them all to face so good. Take what guys do great and make it work for you. At the end of the day, I just want to do whatever it takes to win.”

Speed Williams and Rich Skelton fall on Tyler Wade’s roping hero lists

Speed Williams and Rich Skelton fall on Tyler Wade’s roping hero lists

Wesley Thorp

Hometown: Throckmorton, TX

NFRs: 5 (2016-20)

The goal of roping for a living is nothing new for Thorp, who got started roping calves with his granddad, Buzzy, and team roping with his dad, Jahew. Eventually, guys like Tyler Magnus and Speed provided some insight to young Thorp.

“When I was 9 or 10, Tyler helped me with my roping. When I was about 13, Speed had just stepped away from full-time rodeo and I got to be around him and his family. He helped me a lot and still does. I respect him the most, because he won’t sugar-coat it. He knows what will work and what won’t work, and he’ll tell it to you straight. It’s painful sometimes, but it sure does save me trouble in the long run,” says Thorp, 25, who stamped his name on both the 2019 NFR average and world championship buckles.

“When I was real young I looked up to Speed and Rich (Skelton), then Chad Masters. As I got older, it was Jade who I watched a lot. Cory Petska has also helped me with my roping as much as anyone the last couple years. I think it’s even cooler now, because I know my childhood heroes personally. I wanted to be where they were and rope everyday, ride good horses, and make the NFR since I was a little kid. Now I’m actually living that lifestyle,” says Thorp, who’s getting to travel with his wife, Susanna, and young sons, Matthew and Charlie, this summer. 

Brye Crites listed his father, as his top-notch roping hero, shown here heading for Brye. 

Brye Crites listed his father, as his top-notch roping hero, shown here heading for Brye. 

Brye Crites

Hometown: Welch, OK

While Brye Crites has yet to secure his first NFR back number, his near-miss 2020 season in which he finished 22nd in the world has him pushing forward with his 2021 partner, Jake Orman.

“Growing up in Missouri, I looked up to my dad (Rick). My folks worked the US ropings for Jeff Smith. My dad always worked hard and did everything to give us what we needed. He dang sure drove us to all of them and had me mounted everywhere. He heeled too, until my brother (Jeff, who is seven years older) started heeling so he went to heading. My brother heeled about as good as anybody around there, but when I was about 17 he decided I out-heeled him and he started heading for me at all the amateur rodeos. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have ever gone rodeoing. We just used to jackpot everywhere,” said Crites, 27.

Although Crites’ close-to-home influence was strong, he did have his eyes set on what was going on at rodeo’s highest level.

“I was 10 years old before we had satellite, so I was just glued to roping tapes. I really liked Champ (Cooper) and Rich. Now, I talk to a lot of guys about it and break it down. Jade is unbelievable with his rope, and I watch him a lot and talk to guys like (Ryan) Motes and Jake Long whenever I get to see them about what to try to do to get better.” TRJ

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