The roughstock portion of the 2017 Junior National Finals Rodeo presented by YETI came to an exciting close Monday at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena.
Avery Mullins from Phoenix got things started by winning the Maverick Division (ages 10-11) of the bull riding and Hadley Miller from Boyd, Texas, finished the day off with an 86-point ride to win the senior bull riding (16-17). In between, more than 100 cowboys competed in bull riding, bareback bronc riding and saddle bronc riding with champions crowned in 10 divisions. All winners received championship buckles from Montana Silversmiths.
It was an early birthday present for Mullins, who turns 12 on Friday.
“This is a really big accomplishment since Ty Murray was one of the last guys to win a world championship from Arizona,” Mullins said.
While Mullins has some work to do before he can match Murray’s career achievements – National High School Finals Rodeo all-around champion, College National Finals Rodeo all-around champion, PRCA seven-time all-around champ and two-time bull riding world champ – he’s obviously off to a good start. Besides, Murray never won a Junior NFR championship.
“I got on my first calf when I was 2 and I ended up liking it so I got on some sheep,” Mullins said. “The last three-four years I’ve been getting on steers and this year I’m going to start getting on junior bulls, they’re just one step below the regular bulls.”
Mullins, who often rides at friend and fellow Junior NFR competitor Brady Turgeon’s arena outside of Phoenix, can’t remember a time when he wasn’t preparing to compete for a championship.
“My little brother likes cartoons and action figures,” Mullins said. “When I was little all I did was play with rodeo toys and ride my stick horse and stick bull everywhere.”
Monday, all that practice paid off.
Shortly after Mullins’ win, Huntsville, Texas, cowboy Bradlee Miller won his first title of the day, taking top honors in the Young Gun Division (12-13) of bull riding. Miller, who also won here last year, had to be helped from the arena after hitting his head. But he recovered to also win the senior division of bareback bronc riding with a crowd-pleasing 86.75-point ride.
Hadley Miller made sure his week finished strong as he posted his best score of the week.
“I just wanted to go out there and leave it all out in the arena,” he said. “I didn’t know much about (the bronc), but I had a friend that got on him a couple months ago at a qualifier so I knew he was good. But I didn’t think he was going to be quite that good.”
No matter how good Miller thought his bronc was going to be, he wasn’t going to get bucked off before the buzzer.
“Well, you have to have the mindset that you’re the best,” Miller said. “I had it in my mind that, ‘I’m good. I can ride this sucker, no matter what. And if he does back flips then I better find a way to stick with him.’”
He did, capping a memorable week.
“This feels awesome,” Miller said. “I got to spend a lot of time with my family because I had been practicing hard and I hadn’t had a lot of time to hang out with them. We went to George Strait and had a great time.
“It was like an early Christmas.”
Other winners Monday were Kash Lloyd from Texas (Peewee Bareback), Tucker Carricato from Wyoming (Junior Bareback), Stratton Schoonover from Texas (Peewee Saddle Bronc), Colby Stark from Canada (Junior Saddle Bronc), Garrett Cunningham from Montana (Senior Saddle Bronc) and Chris Villaneuva from Texas (Junior Bull Riding).
Schoonover: “This means everything to me. I’ve wanted this since I started riding.”
Cunningham: “It doesn’t get much better than this. I told myself that this is just another rodeo; don’t get too nervous. But I was a little nervous today.”
Villaneuva: “My goal is always to try my best and win every rodeo that I can. This week was the experience of a lifetime to be here with my buddies. Some kids don’t have the opportunity to have this kind of experience, but I did and I just want to thank my mom and dad.”