Erich Rogers of Round Rock, Arizona, just roped at his 10th straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. The 2017 world champion header won the 2020 NFR team roping average title with Paden Bray.
Q: What was life like growing up in Round Rock, Arizona?
A: We always looked forward to summer. My grandpa was a brand inspector who worked for the grazing committee in his community. So we went and branded with him all the time in the summertime. On the weekends, I got to go jackpotting with the cousins and uncles right around there at little $10-a-man jackpots. Round Rock is centrally located in the heart of the Navajo Reservation, and is very rural desert country out in the middle of nowhere.
Q: How old were you when you realized you wanted to rope for a living?
A: When I was 10 or 11, it’s all I dreamed of doing. I won my first saddle when I was 12, and I was hooked from there.
Q: Were there people you looked up to growing up who helped you know your dream was possible?
A: Yes, there were quite a few guys who roped and jackpotted a lot. My dad roped, and we traveled some on the Indian rodeo circuit. But he had a job to provide for our family. The Williams and Sells boys, Shawn Shirley, Derrick’s Dad, Victor Begay—those are some of the guys we watched rope a lot as kids. When I left The Rez to pursue my dreams, those same people were all really supportive along the way.
Q: How much does it mean to you to be a role model for kids growing up on the Navajo Reservation today?
A: It’s an amazing feeling to know kids look up to me. I try to set a goal for those kids to help them fulfill their dreams. I tell them every person has an opportunity, if they work at it. It takes try, hard work and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. But if they’re all-in and will do all of that, they can make it.
Q: When you aren’t team roping, you moonlight as a tow-truck driver. Tell us about that.
A: Yes, my friend Shane Wilcox owns Elite Towing, and I help him out whenever I have down time or just want to go hang out and chill at the shop. I tag along on towing jobs. When COVID hit and all the rodeos were cancelled, Shane hired me and put me on the payroll. Now I help when I can and I’m not roping.
Q: How pumped were you about winning the NFR average?
A: I was so, so excited about winning the average. It was one of my biggest goals to have that saddle and buckle saying I won it. Finally—10 years later—I got it done and accomplished that goal. It’s pretty sweet to get it done, especially at the end of such a trying year. It’s tough to catch all 10 steers when you’re trying to win money in the rounds. You have to score good, ride hard and go catch, and that’s easier said than done.
Q: Talk about your history with Paden, and why it was so special to succeed with him at the Finals.
A: I’ve been turning Paden steers since he was 12 years old. I picked him up after school there for a while. We cleaned stalls, then we saddled up and roped. Him and his brother, Wyatt, both. Then we ate dinner and called it a night. Paden’s roped behind me for a very long time. To win it with him was pretty awesome. I’ve stayed with their family (which also includes parents Ken and Billie) a lot.
Q: Why do you think Jake and Clay’s (Barnes and Cooper) NFR team roping average record of 59.1 from 1994 still stands?
A: Because they were the greatest team who ever caught 10 steers. My goal in 2020 was to either match that or beat it. That’s been my goal for a couple years now—to come close to being anywhere near their legacy. I think part of the reason why Jake and Clay’s record has stood up all these years is because everybody wants to win the go-rounds. It all happens so fast that it’s pretty tough to catch—much less 10 in a row.
Q: In hindsight, did winning a world championship change your life?
A: It changed the way some people look at me—how I rope and how I handle myself. I just hope I’m an inspiration to all kids who have it tough when they’re young. I hope they’ll say to themselves, ‘If Erich can do it, I can do it, too.’ I’m nobody special, just another Indian cowboy and team roper who loves to rope and do my job. If people work hard enough, they can become somebody.
Q: What was the “it” factor about you and Cory Petska that got you guys the gold buckles?
A: Cory’s always been one of the greatest heelers there’s ever been. He throws fast and he catches. We had so much fun in the five years we roped together. With all the stars lining up that week, it was pretty fun to get to be on that ride with him. We still rope second partners, so that’s pretty sweet and we still have a lot of fun.
Q: Do you have any goals left as a team roper?
A: I’m in a spot right now where I need to sit down and reset all my goals. At first, my goal was to make the Finals. Then winning the Finals and winning the world were goals. Making the Finals 10 times was a goal. I’ve done what I set out to do. It’s time to think about my life goals, and what’s next for me.
Q: You’re 34 now. How much longer do you see yourself pounding the pavement on the professional rodeo road?
A: I have no idea. I was wanting to be done and thinking about hanging it up last summer. But the drive to keep winning is still there. My family and Paden’s family are behind us 100%, and we have some good horses. I might have another five years in me. I’d probably be crazy to consider retiring right now.