BILLINGS — For many, the countdown to Christmas is on.
For the cowboys and cowgirls who have qualified for the National Finals Rodeo, they are readying for 10 consecutive nightly performances.
For one area cowboy, 1997 Shepherd High School graduate Clay Tryan, the thrill of competing in Las Vegas never gets old. Tryan has spent a good majority of December in the Nevada desert over the years.
The three-time PRCA world champion team roper from Billings has competed in 16 National Finals Rodeos in his career and once again has qualified for the championships, which begin Thursday and run through Dec. 14 at the Thomas & Mack Center with 10 nightly performances beginning at 7:45 p.m. Mountain time.
“It is a little bit like a kid at Christmas and the excitement. That is why you drive all the miles and run all the practice steers to make it,” Tryan told 406mtsports.com when asked to describe his feelings leading up to the NFR. “But at the other end, that is what I’m supposed to do when the year starts.”
Tryan enters the NFR fourth in the team roping standings for headers with $103,164.76 won. Clay Smith, last year’s world champion, leads the standings with $150,512.22. While Smith has a sizable lead with prize money at stake for each round and the high-paying average, Tryan has a chance for his fourth title.
At the NFR Tryan said he’d rope with Jake Long, who is fourth in the team roping heelers standings with $106,896.49 won.
And while Tryan, who has won the NFR average title twice, would like another gold buckle, he doesn’t want to overanalyze the situation, saying, “I have a singular focus on one steer at a time. It sounds stupid, but it really is the truth.”
“It’s a lot, but it’s attainable,” Tryan said of Smith’s lead. “I’m not even worried about that at this point. I’m just focused on steer 1. I want to do the best I can on each one I run. You don’t worry about winning it or focus on that until the end anyway. It is so far away, you can’t focus on that.”
Tryan, 40, won his world championships in 2005, 2013 and 2014. He has won $2,435,892 in his career.
Much of his surroundings will be familiar when Tryan enters the arena on Thursday.
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“It’s the exact same [laughs]. Nothing has changed as far as the arena that I’m aware of. It’s the same thing,” he said. “It’s weird it stays the same. Maybe the things you do during the week are a little different, but not even that much. It’s the same stuff you’ve always done. We have it down I guess.”
In Vegas, Tryan’s family — wife Bobbie and sons Tyler (13), Braylon (11) and Dash (5) — will be cheering him on. “They go every night, they love it,” Tryan said, adding his sons have already given him hints that they want to continue the family tradition of roping.
“It is pretty cool, my kids are interested in it and want to see me do good,” he said. “I have a feeling a couple of them will follow my footsteps, which is pretty cool.”
So, what does a typical day in Vegas during the NFR consist of for Tryan?
“There’s a lot of trade shows and I go sign autographs for sponsors every day,” he said. “I have a 13-year-old kid roping at the junior NFR down here. I will go watch him do that. It seems like there is always something. You’re stuck in traffic. The rodeo starts at 6:45 p.m. (Pacific) and you have to be at the arena at 5 p.m. The day goes by pretty quick.”
On his PRCA biography, Billings is listed as Tryan’s residence. Born in Plentywood, Tryan currently lives in Lipan, Texas, with his family, where “I have a good roping setup there," he said.
And while Tryan lives in Texas, he visits the Billings area often. His father, Dennis, lives in Huntley, as does his brother, Brady. Another brother, Travis, lives in Billings. Dennis, Brady and Travis are all former NFR qualifiers.
Tryan explained that living in Texas comes with his profession with the number of rodeos and team roping competitions held in the Lone Star State.
“It’s kind of like every golfer lives in Florida, a lot of team ropers live in Texas,” he said. “You kind of gotta be there if you do it for a living full-time.”
Overall, Tryan said he “feels good” as he enters his 17th NFR and 10 straight days of competition.
“I love to compete and I love to rope,” he said. “It’s kind of a privilege to feel this good at my age. … I must have done something right.”
NOTES: There will be another Tryan competing at the NFR this year in Clay’s cousin, Chase. Chase Tryan, of Helena, is 11th in the team roping standings for heelers. “He’s roping good and deserves to be here,” Clay Tryan said of his cousin. … Others with Montana connections to qualify for the NFR include: Ty Erickson, Helena, steer wrestling, 1st in the standings; Haven Meged, tie-down roping, Miles City, 2nd; Lisa Lockhart, barrel racing, Oelrichs, South Dakota (originally from Circle), 3rd; Chase Brooks, saddle bronc, Deer Lodge, 6th; Bridger Chambers, steer wrestling, Butte, 13th; Caleb Bennett, bareback, Corvallis, 7th.
Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL