How Kellan Johnson Won His Second CNFR Team Roping Title
Kelly Lynch: Can you tell me a little about yourself, where you’re from, where you go to school, things like that?
Kellan Johnson: Yes ma’am. I’m from Casper (Wyoming), 30 miles outside of town towards Laramie just on the other side of the mountain, of Casper Mountain. I go to school in Casper.
KL: How did you first get into team roping?
KJ: Well, I guess I got into it pretty early because of my dad when I was little–ever since I can remember. He was rodeoing professionally, so I just kind of got into it. I watched him and everybody stopping by the house were always team roping. We never really had any calf ropers or anything like that. My uncle calf roped and my dad, but just kind of stuck with the team roping because everyone around me, that’s all everybody did.
KL: What age would you say you started. when you first got on a horse and started using a rope?
KJ: I was helping my dad gather cows. He just told me this the other day–I was helping gather cows and stuff when I was about 5 years old. I probably started messing with it shortly after and I think I went to my first jackpot when I was 9. I started here at the house at 8 or 9. We put on some jackpots and I remember I heeled for Kevin Daniel at one of our jackpots, so I was just a little kid then.
KL: What made you choose to go to school at Casper College, because you went to school in Gillette first, correct?
KJ: I went to school in Gillette first, and I got done with my associates in counseling, so I had some people leave Gillette that were kind of helping me stick around and so I was just like, ‘Man, I’ll just go home.’ I knew dad was the assistant coach. He just got the head coaching job maybe a year before after Tom (Parker) passed away, so it was pretty easy for me to just come back home. I knew I’d have stuff to do around the house, ranching and stuff, and I could go to school there and start my new degree in psychology. I get along with the head coach pretty good so it was pretty easy.
KL: What are you planning to do with a psychology degree? What’s the dream?
KJ: I guess the dream was just to kind of have it in my back pocket, but when everybody asked me what I was going to be going to school for I said psychology and then get a minor in counseling. I think it’d be super cool to be a high school counselor for high school kids. I had a really good high school counselor when I was in school, it kind of helped me with classes and stuff to make it to where I could go rodeo when I was 18—my senior year. I think high school kids kind of go through the biggest trauma about life when they’re about 17 or 18 years old. You kind of need somebody there that kind of is really personable and to communicate with you to show you where life will go—make different choices. I’m pretty good at talking to people, so it would be super easy to just go in there. I just think helping people is super big. I guess to have in you back pocket too, to be a rodeo coach someday if that opportunity presented itself like my dad is.
KL: You won the CNFR back in 2018. How do you think that prepared you for The Finals this time around since you had been there before?
KJ: I would probably have to give most of my credit to Trey (Yates) when I roped my freshman year. I was in high school roping with Carson (Joshnon) and then when I came into college–when I left and went to Gillette—I kind of wanted to go out and figure out some things for myself. I thought if I got away from home I could kind of grow into my own person and not just be under my dad’s name kind of deal. I kind of left there and Trey was really good. He was kind of like my older brother. He helped me understand what this whole college rodeo was about, and he went to the CNFR– I’m not sure how many times–but he helped me understand the run that we could make, the confidence coming into college, roping against guys that were seniors and knew the ropes—knew where the rodeos were at. He knew the sport, knew the steers, knew everything like that. I guess that confidence I got off of rodeoing with Trey my freshman year and then going to the College Finals my freshman year and going and winning it and my dad having confidence in me.
This year being it my third time being there, I guess it’s just kind of where you get comfortable being in that arena. You know exactly where the draws at, you know who has the steers. I guess that’s why they say why the older guys make The Finals over the younger—it takes the younger kids a little bit, but the older guys make the National Finals all the time because they know where the rodeos are at, they know how to enter, they know how to trade, they know where the steers come from you know they know where a place to stay at, where to get tires. You just kind of have that maturity, and that’s not really maturity, but kind of that mature factor of you don’t have to second guess nothing, you know where everything’s at. I guess just Trey showing me that my freshman year, he was super good about explaining to me how it works. It’s not like the National Finals where it’s one steer a night. It’s a four head jackpot, and when he put it to me like that it was super simple to relay it to Carson. I kind of took some of the things that Trey and my dad had said to me my freshman year and I explained it to Carson to make it a little easier on him.
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KL: How special was it getting to rope with your brother this year at the Finals and was it any different than when you roped with Trey back in 2018? I know you said he was kind of like a brother, so was there any similarities in that sense?
KJ: I would have to say it was honestly pretty cool. When I rodeoed in Gillette he was in Casper so when I won it, I was in Gillette and Trey was from Casper. This year was a little more special because I’m from Casper, I’m going to school in Casper, Carson’s from Casper, he goes to school in Casper and my dad’s the head coach from Casper. I guess everything’s just like Casper related, so that made it a little more special. I guess being a freshman was really big to me. Making it and winning it my freshman year and being a freshman and winning the College Finals—that was super special. But I’d have to say this year just had a little more of a cherry on top due to the fact that me and Carson are brothers. We didn’t get to go to the CNFR his freshman year because they canceled it because of COVID, and I was No. 1 in the nation, and he was No. 2, I believe. We got a year off, and then got to come back and got to do it in front of our hometown. It makes it a little more special, and also going to school in Casper and doing it in front of Casper fans you know, my teachers, my basketball coach, football coaches, my science teachers. I had a lot of people texting me that I had went to high school with that I haven’t talk to in a while. They got to see me do it, so I guess that made it a little more special.
KL: How were your nerves going into the short round with a time of 20.7 seconds on three head, knowing that you needed a really fast time to in order to win it all? Can you just talk me through that?
KJ: I was pretty relaxed due to the fact Carson and I have run a lot of steers together. Every type of steer, really in the world, we’ve roped already. We had a really good steer and us knowing that kind of took some of that nerve away of not knowing what the steer might do, but we knew ours was really good. Being last out, you know exactly what we had to do. We practiced that a million times, like, ‘Hey, this is to make the national finals, this is to win the world, this is to win the high school finals,’ We’ve put that pressure on ourselves in practice, so I feel like it really wasn’t nerves that I was really feeling when I was sitting back there watching the Yeahquo brothers go. I think it was more anxious to see exactly what would happen. I ran every scenario through my head. What kind of run do we want to make? If they were 5 flat, what kind of run do we need to make? If they miss, what kind of run do you want to make? I guess all that was going through my head, but I wouldn’t say nervous more than anxious, just to see exactly what we had to do.
KL: All throughout the week, you guys were getting consistently fast times, so I know you kind of explained that you and your brother run steers together all the time. Is that pretty much what it took to get those really fast times all throughout the week or were there any other factors involved?
KJ: I think that we stayed on the good end of the steers. I feel like there were a lot of steers that took kids out of it that were really strong. The barrier was set at even, so the same length as the box. It was extremely difficult in that little building. I feel like we stayed on the good end of the steers at the beginning of the week and it kind of just gave you a good, fluent run. You already had confidence in the arena on your first and on the second one you had a little more confidence and the third one you have some more. We were 6.1 earlier, we were 7-flat on our second one and then came back and we just had to catch to be high call and were 7.6 and then come back and we knew that steer was good—it just felt like another run. Just have to say staying on the good end of the steers at the beginning of the week is super important because then it kind of leads into the end of the week where if you do draw a bad steer, you’ve already drawn good ones to give you some leeway to go and make your run on your last one.
KL: How did it feel on that last run when you guys had a time of 6 seconds to win it all? Just walk me through that whole scenario.
KJ: When Carson and I were in the alley, we try not to talk to each other. I don’t know why, but we just don’t. We keep our thoughts to ourselves because we’ve already talked about it that day. We roped that morning, went in there that night and we knew exactly what we wanted to do.
We’re just waiting in the alley—Carson was behind me and I was in front and the Yeahquo brothers rode in. I went out and watched and when I rode out it was just a different kind of feeling. I felt like I could see everything really clear from my freshman year. My freshman year I was super nervous and didn’t know exactly what to expect because we were third high call back, but this time I felt really clear about what we were doing. That’s just maturity. That’s just with me growing up. Honestly, thank God I grew up.
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They roped their steer in 6.9 and right then I turned to Carson and I probably said some words that you can’t write down on paper, but I looked at him and I said, ‘Let’s rope this steer for what he’s worth.’ I said that twice and he said, ‘Okay.’
We just zoned in, rode in and they said, ‘alright your high call team is Casper, Wyoming, Casper College.’ and it got really loud. Then you got to block that out, that’s just all glitter and everything sparkly on the outside when the best part, you gotta focus on you. I rode in the box and I knew my biggest thing was scoring because the steer was so good. I rode in there, I looked at dad and I said, ‘tail to pen?’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Yep! But see it. see it and ride.’ He looked at both of us and said, “Make a good run.”
I turned around, I got focused up, kind of got in my zone and backed in. I don’t take very long in the box because I don’t like to take very long—too anxious. I nod, I see my start, I hear him yell “yeah” and everything went just like numb—just real quiet. I don’t hear anything while I rope, I just hear him yell “yeah” and then I zoned in on roping the steer, turned the steer and when I caught him, I don’t know why, but I just knew [Carson] was gonna catch that steer. [The steer] hit, and he didn’t get to really round very much. He just kind of like squared. He took one jump, and I knew I had to make him jump one more time and [Carson] was gonna heel him. He heeled him and when he threw I knew we were going to be good, and everybody started yelling and screaming.
I looked on the board and we were 6 flat. I just I get super excited about little things, so I started freaking out and I looked at Carson and he never shows emotion and he was. That riled me up a little bit. I told myself I wouldn’t take my hat off, but I did.
I guess that was how that whole situation went from the morning of Saturday all the way to practicing, walking down the stairs from being No. 1 to kind of zone in there and then the alleyway where just you’re just kind of on your own and it’s up to you to see if you can win a national title or not and that’s that.
KL: I’d say that’s a pretty big deal to win a national championship.
KJ: Yeah, I guess it is. Some of my friends couldn’t be there because they’ve moved on with life, and so they texted me and said, ‘hey man, if you win it, I got 20 bucks down that says you lose it,’ Because when I won with Trey, I definitely did. They got it on camera I mean, I don’t know why, I just get super excited when you do get in front of a lot of people watching, cheering you on. I pumped my chest, took my hat off, and I hate taking my hat off, so when I took my hat off I knew that we probably did something special.
KL: What did you find was the most challenging part of roping at the Finals?
KJ: I would have to say the most challenging of roping at the Finals was definitely the start. I feel like the start was pretty long on steers that were pretty strong. I would have to say staying focused because it’s a week-long deal you know what I mean. You rope Monday morning, Tuesday morning and then like we had off until Thursday and some guys have off until Friday.
Some guys like the Yeahquo’s, they roped Tuesday night, so you’re kind of just like bam, bam, bam. Me and Trey had that, we were up Tuesday night. It’s just where you have a good feel of what’s going on, horses are working good, it’s all very simple, you stay out of the bars. I’d have to say that probably staying focused for that whole week and not get sidetracked. We get super good enterings, so we got to go up to North Platte (Nebraska) on Wednesday morning. That was the night before the rodeo, so we got to go make another run. Then we got to go to Pleasant Grove on Friday night and battle for the short round. We entered good enough so we could stay focused on our jobs the whole week while trying to make some money on the professional level as well. I feel like we stayed focused really well on our run. I think that’s the most challenging—either the barrier or staying focused for the week.
KL: Were there a lot of guys that were breaking the barrier?
KJ: There was a lot of barriers broken, but I feel like after the first slack, everyone got a really good feel of it. That it wasn’t going to happen fast. You had to stay tail to pin and if they ran, go run them down. It felt really easy and if they ran it was a challenge, so I feel like the barrier was broken a lot in the first round and it was also missed. People weren’t getting times because the barrier was long enough that if your steer did run, it was kind of a rushed shot. You could feel the back end coming close to you. You shouldn’t feel that, but in the little buildings you surely can because you’re going down through there and you’re just like, ‘I know the bucking chutes are right there.’ You can start seeing them in your peripheral vision like they’re coming to you. I feel like guys rushed a lot of shots. I feel like that’s why a lot of people miss, because they were rushing their throws because they could feel the bucking chutes and the back end coming up super fast.
KL: What are your roping goals for the future? Will you continue to rope in Pro Rodeos?
KJ: Carson and I set a goal before we started this fall after rodeoing most the year last year and ending up top 40 in the world–I think he was 30th and maybe I was 32nd–we came into it this fall and we looked at each other and I said, ‘I want to make the CNFR, I want to win the CNFR and then I want to try to make the National Finals.’ This year we’re buddying with Cory Kidd and Ryan Motes. Ryan Motes has been there, done that. Cory Kidd is also a guy that has been really close to making it, but has a really good chance this year of making the Finals.
I feel like we’ll just keep doing that. We’ll go back to school next year, but that’ll be my last year and I would really like to go back to school being an NFR qualifier this year and just continue on from there. I feel like professional rodeo is the next step and it’s always been that step for me I feel like. Ever since I was 18 years old in high school, I quit basketball to go Pro Rodeo. I’ve always wanted to do it, so I feel like I’ll stick with it until I can’t afford it or I make it, I guess. Then you kind of go from there. Once you make it once, try to make it again, and again, and again and again trying to win a gold buckle like everyone else, I suppose.