Trust Key as Tarleton State Men Head to CNFR

The men’s rodeo team from Tarleton State University will vie for a national title at the annual College National Finals Rodeo, June 9-15 in Casper, Wyo. Team members are, from left, Bailey Small, Roedy Farrell, Gus Gaillard, Mason Spain, Ira Dickinson, Landris White and Coach Mark Eakin.

STEPHENVILLE — Six men with a single goal are headed to Casper, Wyo., to represent Tarleton State University in the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR), June 9-15.

They aim to become national champions.

Saddle bronc riders Ira Dickinson, Bailey Small and Gus Gaillard; bareback rider Roedy Farrell, bull rider Mason Spain and steer wrestler Landris White joined forces to win the team championship in the highly competitive Southwest Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association and earn their shot at the ultimate prize.

Most of the men live at the university’s state-of-the-art training facility, so they have become a very close-knit group. As the season progressed, they discovered the one aspect that could take them to the top — trust.

“It’s everything,” said Gaillard, a sophomore ag business major from Morse who took third place in the region to qualify for his second CNFR. “Not just as friends, but knowing every time you get in the bucking chute or on a bull, you’re going to give it 100 percent. I know I’m going to do that every time, and I trust completely that those guys are, too. They’re never going to leave anything on the table.”

Dickinson, a native of Rock Springs, Wyo., and Small, from Fall River Mills, Calif., were the event champion and reserve champion. Add Gaillard to the mix, and the three won the saddle bronc competition in seven of 10 regional rodeos.

“Everybody has to do his part and hold himself accountable,” said Dickinson, who graduated with a master’s in agricultural and consumer resources in May. “It’s college and there are a lot of distractions — a lot of things we could be doing that’s more fun than going to the gym — but it comes down to how bad do you want it?”

Small, a May graduate with a degree in consumer science, is headed for his second CNFR.

“This is like a dream come true,” he said. “We all share the same goal. If we all take care of our business, we’ll have the opportunity to get that team championship.”

Farrell, one of the most consistent competitors in a purple vest this season, finished fourth among the region’s bareback bronc riders, making the finals in nine rodeos. He fully grasps the importance of the teammates’ shared trust. 

“That word fits this team kind of perfectly,” he said. “We all live next to each other, and we’re all pretty good buddies. We trust each other to do what needs to be done to win. I know if I need anything I call anyone on the team. That’s pretty awesome.”

Mark Eakin, in his 16th season as Tarleton State’s rodeo head coach, sees something special in this group. “The guys, especially the rough stock guys, they do everything together. They’ve gotten really close over the last year. It seems like it’s a small family out there at the arena.”

Besides leaning on each other for support, each member of the team knows that he’s polishing the legacy of a program that has accumulated 37 national titles.

“It definitely motivates me to do my best,” said Spain, a senior finance major who made his first CNFR this year after a series of injuries. “It’s a unique deal in rodeo being on the Tarleton team, since it’s an individual sport.”

Spain missed all five of the fall semester rodeos following knee surgery. He returned in February and made the finals in four of the spring events to finish sixth overall in the Southwest Region.

“It’s a little added pressure,” he said, “but that history drives us as a team.”

White’s regular season featured a third-place regional finish in steer wrestling. A recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology, he is the team’s lone timed-event qualifier.

“I don’t think there’s any added pressure because of that,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is what I do. I look at it as just another chance to do my job and help the team.”

To complement the determination, Eakin sees one novel aspect to this year’s team. In 25 years of coaching, this is the first time he has not taken a roper to CNFR.

“It’s a bit different, but it’s still a very balanced team,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of experience, and they’re all at the peak of their game, so I’m pretty excited about this year. 

“Hopefully everybody shows up healthy, we draw well and have a good week in Casper. They should have a really good chance to pull this thing off.”

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