Veteran steer wrestler Martin aims to win first world title at NFR

Since falling short of the final qualifying spot for the National Finals Rodeo by $626 in 2008, steer wrestler Casey Martin has used the experience to help fuel his rise to the top of his sport.

“It was kind of a learning experience that every steer counts and don’t mess around on any of them because you can win $600 at any rodeo,” he said. “Taking every steer one at a time, that’s the biggest thing.”

That approach helped Martin, 32, qualify for his first NFR in 2011 — in his 10th year in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association — and propelled him to second place in the NFR average and second place in the world last year, when he was runner-up to Luke Branquinho.

“Finishing in second helped me figure out that I know I can win,” said Martin, who won the first round of last year’s NFR in 3.4 seconds and placed in four other rounds. “It gave me more confidence in myself.”

The only event leader without a world title entering the NFR — which opens its annual 10-day run today at the Thomas &Mack Center — Martin likes his chances to hold off Trevor Knowles, who is in second place, $7,410 off the pace.

“I like them a lot,” said Martin, who has led the standings every week but one this year. “I feel really good about how I’m bulldogging, my horse is working good, and I have a good hazer. I have as good a chance or better than anyone.

“It would fulfill my dream. As a kid, I wanted to make the Finals and win the world.”

On the subject of kids, Martin comes from a family of nine of them and has five of his own, with a sixth on the way. A native of Sulphur, La. — a town of about 20,000 — Martin also has long enjoyed teaching local youngsters the art of steer wrestling at his ranch.

“I love helping kids,” he said. “I try to keep them in line and make sure they take care of business. I just enjoy it.

“I’ve had people help me all my life. The least I can do is help them. I like to get people started in rodeo. I feel like I owe it back.”

Before Martin’s recent run of rodeo success — he has made almost $350,000 and counting in the past three years — he worked as a carpenter to supplement his income.

“I’ve worked with my dad in the construction business all my life, doing houses,” he said. “I would go rodeo, and when I got home, I went right back to work. I didn’t get a break.”

Martin placed 21st in the world in 2007 and 20th in 2009 before slipping to 40th in 2010, when he broke in a new horse and competed on a limited schedule.

He ascended to ninth in the world in 2011, when he tied for first in the ninth round of the NFR and placed in three others en route to making a career-high $93,496.

“I had trust and faith in my horse (Dunny),” he said. “I had confidence in him. I knew I could win on him, no matter what happened.”

Along with changing his approach, Martin said an attitude adjustment also has been key to his success.

“Attitude and knowing you’re going to win,” he said. “Being positive about everything and not talking yourself out of winning. I have done that throughout the years.

“I used to think, ‘Oh, man, I don’t have a good steer.’ You talk yourself out of winning instead of making the best run you can.”

■ NOTES — The NFR will be televised at 7 p.m. today through Dec. 14 by GAC (374). … Trevor Brazile has all but clinched his eighth straight and 11th overall all-around world crown, which would give him his unprecedented 19th world title. … Tuf Cooper has the largest lead in any of the individual events (more than $37,000 over Tyson Durfey) as he bids to become the first tie-down roper to win three straight world titles since his father, rodeo Hall of Famer Roy Cooper, won five in a row from 1980 to 1984. … In the closest NFR title race, reigning team roping heeler world champion Jade Corkill, a Fallon native, leads Travis Graves by $1,283. … Four-time bareback riding world champion Bobby Mote leads two-time defending champion Kaycee Feild by $5,812. … Three-time barrel racing world champion Sherry Cervi leads reigning world champion Mary Walker by $10,303.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.

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