By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (September 21, 2015) — Sterling Smith was sitting in the least envious spot in rodeo – No. 16 in the world standings with a little over a week until the cutoff date to reach the top 15 and qualify for the 2015 National Finals Rodeo.
Then he delivered. In the clutch.
Smith, a Stephenville tie-down roper, earned more than $7,000 last week to push his season earnings past the $70,000 mark. It was just the boost he needed, as he entered the week a shade more than $500 behind No. 15 Michael Otero and $1,300 ahead of No. 17 Adam Gray.
Smith, 32, is fighting for his second NFR appearance after making it to Las Vegas two years ago. He placed in three rounds at the 2013 NFR and finished 12th in the world standings. He finished 37th in the world last year.
Smith won the tie-down at the New Mexico State Fair & Rodeo in Albuquerque, pocketing $4,179 in 8.1 seconds to highlight his already successful week.
“It was a dang-sure, well-needed win,” said Smith of the Albuquerque victory. “The last two weeks I’ve tried not to focus on (the standings) and just focus on my roping and taking care of my business. My thing is, if you take care of your business, that will take care of (the standings).”
He also took care of business by winning the first round and $1,418 in 7.9 seconds at the West Texas Fair & Rodeo in Abilene, where he finished fourth in the average for another $1,026. Add $608 for a fourth-place tie at the 71st Annual Four States Fair & Rodeo in TexArkana, and that’s $7,231 he added for the week, and unofficially, $70,371.95 for the year.
The week built up perfectly for Smith, concluding on Sunday with his victorious ride at Albuquerque.
“I went to TexArkana on Wednesday, Abilene Thursday morning, Pasadena Thursday night, back to Abilene Friday morning and Albuquerque on Sunday,” Smith said. “Winning Albuquerque dang sure put win in my sale. It was a relief.”
Otero wasn’t in the money at any of last week’s rodeos listed on the PRCA web site, prorodeo.com, and Gray earned $3,960 by winning a round and placing eighth in the average at the historic Pendleton Roundup in Pendleton, Oregon. Gray’s unofficial season total is now $65,798.47. Otero entered last week with $63,641.37.
The win in Albuquerque was the first outright victory outside Texas for Smith this season. He has won six events in state – the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show in Fort Worth, the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show & Rodeo in Mercedes, the Parker County Frontier Days and PRCA Rodeo in Weatherford and the XIT Rodeo & Reunion in Dalhart. He did win a pair of out of state co-championships in the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. and the Ute Stampede in Nephi, Utah.
With most his success coming in the Lone Star State, Smith has a commanding lead of more than $12,000 atop the Texas Circuit Standings.
There is still work to be done by Smith and other cowboys. The Cowboy Capital of the World PRCA Rodeo is among the more than two dozen PRCA events scheduled this week. Smith ropes in the American Royla Rodeo in Kansas City Wednesday, the Justin Boots Championships in Omaha, Neb. Thursday, the Apache Stampede in Apache, Okla. on Friday and the Amarillo Tri-State Fair & Rodeo on Saturday before concluding the regular season at home in Stephenville on Sunday.
“I was lucky to get that Sunday slot in Stephenville. I know a lot of guys were asking for that, so I got lucky,” Smith said of finishing up the season at Lone Star Arena. “After this week I’ll slow down tremendously. There are a bunch of jackpot ropings, and I’ll go to three or four of them. I might enter one or two rodeos here and there, and I’ll definitely be in The All-American Finals in Waco (in October), but I really want to get fresh before the NFR and be ready to go.”
It’s not like there isn’t work at home to catch up on. Smith is key part of the family construction business and ranch.
“I have a lot of catching up to do here, and it will be nice to be home after being gone the last four months pretty much,” he said. “Being home with family and working at home refreshes me.”
With the Cowboy Capital of the World PRCA Rodeo coming up this weekend, it’s Rodeo Heritage Week in Stephenville, and if anyone understands the meaning of rodeo heritage it’s the son of 1978 team roping world champ Brad Smith and two-time College National Finals Rodeo women’s all-around champ Barrie Beach Smith. Sterling’s wife, Tibba, is a former assistant rodeo coach at Tarleton State University.
“Rodeo heritage to me is just a way of life, but it’s also a big advantage for me,” Smith said. “It’s having all the people in my family that have done it all before. They’ve really helped me out and given me more of an edge because they have knowledge from doing it before. I can go to them for advice.”
If Smith, a 2002 graduate of Stephenville High School, does make the NFR, he will be joined by Stephenville cowboy Marty Yates, 21. Yates, a 2013 Huckabay graduate, is third in the world standings after finishing sixth in 2014 when he won or shared three rounds in his first NFR.
“Getting to the NFR means a lot. That’s what we all strive for every year is to get there, and this year, with it paying so much, any guy who gets there could walk away with the gold buckle,” said Smith, referring to the trophy buckle awarded to the world champion. “Can I win it? Yeah, sure, if the cards fall right in Vegas there is a big chance there.”