Clay O’Brien Cooper: Ready or Not… Here Come the Young Guns
Cooper talks about the up-and-comers in the sport of team roping.

From the standpoint of sheer volume, more young guys with extreme, raw talent have emerged onto the roping scene than ever before the last few years. My professional roping career has spanned 40 years now, and in each decade I’ve seen kids come onto the scene who were phenomenal talents. Seeing new talent come along is nothing new. But it does seem like the number of phenomenal, upper-echelon young guys coming up is at an all-time high.

When it comes to epic talent in the last 10 years or so, there’s a guy like Jade Corkill. In the last five years, there’s a kid like Junior Nogueira. And there are others who are right on the brink, if they get the right partner and horse, and the breaks it takes to really make it. The timing of those equations can make for career-changing opportunities.

There are a lot of kids out there today with a ton of talent, both heading and heeling. It’s hard to predict who’s going to break out of that talented herd and take it to the highest level, like Jade and Junior have. There are just some guys who are not going to be denied their success.

I could see early on that Jade was the total package. He has the mental game, the physical talent and the horsemanship, and everyone could see that combination coming together quickly for him. It was obvious.

I remember toward the tail end of his first year out here when he was struggling a little and I wanted to encourage him. I said something along the lines of, “Hey, listen, you’ve got what it takes. Keep your head down, keep whipping and spurring, and it won’t be long. You’ll be a phenom.”

Then there’s Junior, who has such a special ability to stay focused on a steer’s hind feet. It doesn’t matter where he’s at position-wise, he can make the shot. I’ve never seen anybody who can leave the saddle, go rope the steer, then crawl back in the saddle, and finish the run like he can. As he keeps putting his position, his riding and his horsemanship together—with the physical ability and reactions he has—he’s only going to get better over time. And that’s kind of scary, because he’s in a dominating position right now.

Wesley Thorp has heeled at the last couple NFRs, and did something this year that no one’s ever done before when he made it to The American both heading and heeling. He won The American Semifinals heading for Seth Smithson, and also qualified for a chance at the million heeling for Speed Williams. To be two of the top five teams to advance from Fort Worth to Dallas was pretty spectacular, and is obviously a feat not just anyone can pull off.

Having watched Wesley awhile now, I can’t say it surprised me. He’s another example of the talented guys that keep coming up. And he’s not just extremely talented, but he really works at it. You can tell he works at all aspects of his roping, wants success and does not make the mistake of taking his talent for granted.

Wesley’s an extremely bright, intelligent, well-spoken young man, and he’s not just riding on raw talent. He’s willing to try to outwork everybody to get where he wants to go. That’s really cool for a guy like me to see. That’s the kind of mentality it takes to be a contender.

In any sport—golf, football, basketball, roping—there will always be kids who come up who are naturally talented and grow up watching every move their heroes make. They take that mental imagery to the practice pen, and they get good fast. That’s the way it is in this day and age, and the way it should be. It’s good for the sport. It brings enthusiasm, and it’s better watching. That effort and intensity creates fans, including me.

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