I qualified for 27 Wrangler National Finals Rodeos in the 35-year span between 1980 and 2015. I roped at my first one with Allen Bach, and made my last two with a kid from Brazil by the name of Junior Nogueira. A horse fell with me when we were practicing for the 2015 NFR—and I got a pretty serious head injury out of that—so I unfortunately didn’t get to make the trip to Las Vegas after qualifying. My last NFR hurrah in 2014 was Junior’s first. Talk about a year of fast learning curves and unforgettable memories.
I didn’t orchestrate any part of my time with Junior. It was all God, and roping with Junior was a godsend. I’d had about enough of rodeoing at the time, and Junior had a dream to come to America and rope for a living. Toni and I were empty nesters, and I’d been on the road so long that I was going to start spending more time at home with her.
But people were persistent about introducing me to this kid from Brazil. They kept saying he could really rope, and wanted to meet me. I knew about bull riders from Brazil taking over the bull riding world, but didn’t even know they roped in Brazil. I wasn’t buying that some kid from over there could hang with the best guys here.
The first day Junior came to the house, he worked the chutes and ran the steers up on foot all day long. I felt kind of sorry for him, so I told him he could come back the next day and I’d spin him a few on my practice horse. The plan was to rub mud in his face, and make those guys bragging on him eat some crow. I had a handful of stronger, ranker steers, so I spun those for Junior. I was reaching and ducking, and he was pulling off some crazy shots and crossfiring most of them on a low-caliber horse.
I kept turning up the heat, and ducking harder, thinking each one was just a lucky shot. But I never could mishandle one bad enough to make Junior miss. And he could somehow get a dally on that horse that was jumping up and down and sideways.
Junior had $500 to his name, and not enough English for me to even understand him. With help, he told me about his dad dying riding into the box to rope at a rodeo when Junior was really young. And that his mom had taken him to some roping clinics back home in Brazil. I wanted to help fulfill this kid’s dream, so I told Junior that he could come stay with me, and that I’d give him a taste of what rodeo here was like.
I had no intention of trying to make the Finals again. But Junior was such a polite kid with such a warm spirit. Neither of us had a good enough horse, and all I had was an older single-wheel crew-cab truck and a stock trailer. This was all 10 years ago, at the end of 2013.
I had to be the bad guy a lot in the beginning, but there was a huge learning curve if this kid was going to stand a chance. A friend and I bought a horse just to get Junior by, and with $500 to his name, Junior went to work building his own empire. He started on his permit when we roped at the Denver qualifier in January of 2014, and away we went.
Junior had everything to learn, and had never been in cold weather before. I remember his teeth chattering when we went to Rapid City that winter. The poor kid didn’t speak English, didn’t know anybody and had no earthly idea where he was in this country. Every rodeo was new to him. I get emotional thinking about all he had to overcome, but Junior would always say he wasn’t scared.
If there would have been a bonus for whoever made the Finals on the worst horse, Junior would have won it hands down. I was hard on him at times, and there were times he threw his sucker in the dirt and threatened to go back home to Brazil. The savior of the whole deal that first year was Jade Corkill, who let Junior finish out the regular season on one of his horses.
It was meant to be for Junior to come here and rodeo. We’ve developed a really close bond, and him and Toni are like mother and son to this day. He’s built a name and great career for himself. I’m proud of Junior like he’s my own son, the same way Leo (Camarillo) was proud of me. TRJ