Although he's a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo rookie, Royce Ford is no stranger to the bright lights and drama of the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
The 21-year-old bareback rider spent a good chunk of his childhood watching his dad, Hall of Famer Bruce Ford, spur bareback horses like no other man of his time.
The elder Ford won a record five world titles and qualified for 19 NFRs during his storied career.
"The last time he went , my cousin Heath and I were sitting in the stands the first night," Royce recalls. "They played the National Anthem and had that big opening. We were just so pumped up. We were sitting in the grandstands and I bet I could have spurred a hole through the concrete slab that I was sitting in front of. Awful exciting."
Royce, who lives in Kersey, Colo., says his most memorable moment watching his dad occurred in 1987.
"I got to watch him on that last weekend win his last world title," Royce said. "He won the last round so that was very exciting."
It's Royce's turn now to create those NFR memories. He enters his first world championship ranked No. 15 in the Jack Daniel's World Standings with $59,566.
He joined the PRCA in 2000 and last year won the Mountain States Circuit Finals Rodeo in Denver, which qualified him for the prestigious Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Pocatello, Idaho.
"It's been pretty exciting around here," Royce said of life around tiny Kersey (near Greeley, Colo.). "Everybody in town knows I'm going."
His pending trip to Las Vegas is a topic at the town's "biscuits and gravy" coffee shop and at the new Texaco, where Royce likes to stop by for a taco or two.
Being ranked No. 15, Royce will be the first cowboy to nod his head on the first night of the 45th annual Wrangler NFR, Dec. 5-14. "I'm going to try and do something spectacular right off the bat so they know I'm there," he said.
Bruce has offered some advice to his son, which Royce plans to use in his Las Vegas debut.
"He said go have fun and don't let the pressure get to you, " Royce said. "Coming in at the bottom, you put the pressure on those top guys. That's what I'm going to do."
Despite it being his first time at the Wrangler NFR, Royce said he takes comfort knowing many of his good friends will be competing with him, including world standings leader Will Lowe (Gardner, Kan.).
In his rookie season last year, Lowe finished third in the world standings. This year, he's been virtually unstoppable, winning all three jewels of the Pace Picante ProRodeo Series.
"That guy's my hero right now," Royce said. "I got to rodeo with him all of last year and he rode good the whole time. This year he's been on fire and you can hardly get him on the ground. Every horse seems to fit his style. I love his attitude about life in general. He's just out there having fun. I like to be around people who are positive."
Royce's goal at the NFR: "I'd like to walk away with $40,000. That would be a good week. I get the opportunity to get on 10 of the best horses in the world for all kinds of money so I'm going to ride every one like it's the best in the world and enjoy it. When it's all over, hopefully they'll give me a fat check."
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