Worth the Hype


Years ago, veteran Arkansas tie-down roper Ricky Hyde heard stories about an up-and-coming roper by the name of Cody James. Now that James is all grown up and on the ProRodeo scene as a rookie in 2006, the native of Monticello, Ark., isn't letting his fellow neighbor and traveling partner down.

And Hyde saw it for himself during the Fourth of July run in, coincidentally, Cody, Wyo.

James claimed the one-header and $8,375 at the Cody Stampede with a run of 8.2 seconds. Hyde, a veteran of six Wrangler National Finals Rodeos, was right behind at 8.3.

"I was hearing about him as a little kid," Hyde said. "I heard about how fast he was and the stories about how much he was winning. It's proving to be true, now. He's done everything everyone (in Arkansas) thought he would. At Cody, everyone saw that he's got a chance and realized who Cody James was."

James won more than $12,000 at three rodeos during Cowboy Christmas — he finished second in Livingston, Mont., and shared seventh in Red Lodge, Mont. — and besides serving as a springboard for the rest of the season, the three runs also gave James a sense of belongingness among the top ropers.

"After Cody, that set it off," James said. "I knew I could rope with anyone and that I was here for the summer and rest of the year."

Spending the entire year roping wasn't James' immediate plan. James, fresh out of college at the University of Arkansas-Monticello, had plans of winning the PRCA Resistol Rookie of the Year Award in his event and earning enough money to qualify for the major rodeos in early 2007.

While he's well on his way to winning the rookie award — his more than $45,000 earned is some $18,000 ahead of his nearest competitor — he's done more than just ensure placement in such major early-season rodeos as Denver, Fort Worth (Texas) and RodeoHouston.

If the season ended today, James, the 12th ranked roper in the world standings — would be on his way to the Wrangler NFR, becoming the first ProRodeo tie-down roping rookie to make it there since Shane Slack in 1996.

And if he doesn't rope in December, James won't exactly be crestfallen, either.

"Maybe I'll be there," James said. "But if I don't, I'll still be tickled with the year I've had. I've overshot my expectations. I'd be tickled if the season ended right now."

James, 23, has continued his improvement since his standout performance over the Fourth of July. He finished second in Casper, Wyo. ($4,957), won the title in Lawton, Okla. ($5,072) and finished fourth in Sikeston, Mo. ($2,830).

James turned professional after three berths to the College National Finals Rodeo and a tie-down roping crown in the Arkansas Rodeo Association, a collection of amateur ropings that helped further cut his teeth.

He could have gone away to college, but he remained right at home, almost literally, as he embarked on taking his game to the next level.

"There was a good rodeo program right there (at Monticello)," James said. "I could practice right here at the house. It was convenient and a better deal than packing up and starting somewhere brand new."

Hyde can tell the difference that made in James' maturation process. It's carried over to his professional career with composure that Hyde doesn't see in many young ropers, let alone rookies.

"He's handled everything beyond my expectations," Hyde said. "He handles success good and doesn't let it go to his head. Then he starts over again. That's one of the best parts about him. He's helped me as much as I've helped him. It's great being around someone who's excited about going."

James also recently traveled with 20-time Wrangler NFR tie-down roper Mike Johnson, another sign that the rookie has caught the eye of more than a few of rodeo's bigger names.

James was exposed to rodeo's life on the road early as his parents Irma and Alvin took daughter Shawn to high school rodeos. About the only thing that slowed Cody down was an 18-month bout with Epstein-Barr virus, a type of mono, that he contracted when he was 13. He couldn't compete in any sports and was home-schooled during that time, too fatigued to attend his regular school, while the virus ran its course.

"All the guys took him in, and he loved to go with us," Irma said. "He got that experience at a young age."

Hyde, nearly 15 years James' senior, sees a changing of the guard.

"Everyone knows who he is now," Hyde said. "Over the Fourth, he passed me (in the world standings). He's made some outstanding runs. He's been roping good since he was a little boy. Hopefully, he stays the way he's going."

As far as Hyde sees it, James was worth the hype. Not everyone is.