Last-minute team ropers go through growing pains at NFR

Updated December 12, 2017 - 8:55 pm

Jr Dees was in need of a heeler after his team roping partner broke three fingers four days before the Days of 47 Cowboy Games and Rodeo in Salt Lake City.

Dees had no idea who his new teammate would be when he attended the rodeo in Casper, Wyoming, in July. Tyler McKnight’s girlfriend broke the news to the header.

“I sat along the fence next to Tyler McKnight’s girlfriend, and she said, ‘Did you hear the good news?’ I said, ‘What good news? You’re roping with Tyler in Salt Lake,’” Dees said.

A week later, the new tandem won the team roping competition in Salt Lake City.

“That was a surprise because we didn’t do very well in practice,” Dees said. “We probably caught two out of 15 (steer).”

Dees and McKnight went their separate ways after the Utah competition. They then reunited in Las Vegas when two heelers and two headers qualified alone for the National Finals Rodeo.

“We had success once before, why not do it again in Las Vegas,” Dees said.

Dees and McKnight got off to a hot start in the first four go-rounds at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Dees, 20, the youngest competitor in team roping, had two second-place finishes in the header competition. McKnight, 28, placed in the top six three times among heelers and took second twice.

The young header from South Dakota and the heeler known as “Knight Rider” stumbled in the fifth go-round, as the two failed to catch their steer. Dees and McKnight are first-time competitors at the NFR.

“There can be a lot of nerves, but this is a 10-day event,” Dees said. “We’re going to struggle at times, but we know we can compete and make it work together.”

After six days, Dees and McKnight are fourth in the NFR standings. Dees ranks fifth in the world header standings ($145,655), and McKnight is fifth in the world heeling standings ($146,066).

Tom Richards and Jeremy Buhler also are last-minute partners in Las Vegas. They had the opposite start Dees and McKnight had through four days of competition.

Richards, the header, and Buhler, the heeler, failed to place in the top six and had three no catches.

“We haven’t had a whole lot of luck yet,” Richards said. “There’s still more steers to go. You have to stay positive.”

Richards and Buhler had success Monday when they tied for third with a score of 4.0 in the fifth go-round.

Buhler, a Canadian who spends his winters in Arizona, was only 90 minutes away from Richards’ home in Humboldt, Arizona.

“It worked out well,” said Richards, 27, who is competing in his second straight NFR. “We had a good amount of practice together.”

Richards’ father is George Richards, who qualified for the NFR seven times and was the 1978 world champion.

After Tuesday’s competition, Richards and Buhler weren’t ranked in the average standings. Richards is ranked 14th in the world header standings ($104,742), and Buhler is 15th in the heeling world standings ($91,333).

Contact Gilbert Manzano at gmanzano@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GManzano24 on Twitter.

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