He’s Back: David Key
Nine-time NFR header David Key reflects on his years away from rodeo as he steps on the gas this summer with seven-time champ of the world Rich Skelton.

David Key, 50, raked in $1.5 million during a ten-year run from 2000-09. The only NFR he missed was in ’08 with Kory Koontz on a 17-place finish, and he was fourth in the world four times.

Through 2015, Key landed in the top 25 a few more times. But after an 18-place finish in 2015, that was it for him.

“I got sick of going and sick of being gone and sick of roping and sick of it all,” he reports.

Key’s hometown of Stephenville, Texas, was as good a place as any to give roping lessons or do schools, but not even that appealed to him.

“I remember back when I quit, Rich told me, ‘You still rope good,’” Key recalls. “But I needed a break. I was just burned out. I hated everything about team roping.”

Fast-forward four years. Key has been home around his kids (aged 9 and 11), giving roping lessons and working part-time in the oilfield and trucking industries. About 18 months ago, he began to enjoy team roping again. He again became a fan of the sport.

James Phifer

“I still had no intention of going back to rodeo,” Key says. “When Rich called me in February, my first response was, ‘Hell no.’”

That wasn’t because Key had any doubt they could win together. That’s all they did in 2009. It was just, his mind was so far out of rodeo. He was so done. But Skelton kept talking him around. Sponsorship looked good. Finally, the intrigue took over for Key. And the caliber of the heeler in question.

“He’s a catcher, that’s for sure,” says Key of the seven-time world champ. “In fact, when we roped in 2009, I realized I’d only had two heelers in history that I could count on one hand the mistakes they made all summer. And that’s Clay and Rich. When I turn ’em, we win money.”

Pretty tough offer to turn down. And these two go way back, anyway. Key gets a little credit, indirectly, for many of his heeler’s gold buckles–he actually sold Roanie to Skelton all those years ago, back when he was a heeler.

“The thing about David is not just that we’ve roped in the past and had success, but also that he’s heeled a bunch,” says Skelton. “So he knows how steers need to come around and handle. That makes a huge difference. Those guys who heeled before they headed, that’s a big deal.”

As for hitting the road again, Key knows as well as anybody the time and effort and sacrifice it takes to win at that level. In his opinion, if you’re in at all, you have to be all in. It can’t be done halfway. So he’s added two good head horses to the little bay he still had around, and is locked and loaded to leave for the BFI and summer run. Any fears he had of being unready dissolved when they cracked out this month.

“At the first rodeo, I felt like I hadn’t ever quit,” Key says. “I scored sharp and stuck it on him.”

Katy, bar the door.

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