LAS VEGAS The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's future became its present at the 2005 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as five 20-something cowboys captured the gold buckles given to champions in each event.
That includes 21-year-old Ryan Jarrett, a dairy farmer from Summerville, Ga., who captured the world all-around title during Sunday's 10th and final go-round at Thomas & Mack Center.
"I don't know whether to lay down and cry or jump up and down," said Jarrett, the only cowboy to qualify in two events at this year's Wrangler NFR. "It's wonderful. They don't give these (gold buckles) away. You have to earn them."
Jarrett earned his title by winning $114,715 in tie-down roping and steer wrestling during the NFR. His total for the season was $263,664, which was about $52,000 ahead of second place Lee Graves, who had $211,695. Trevor Brazile, the three-time defending world all-around champion finished third in the final world standings after coming into the NFR in first place.
"It's some accomplishment," said Jarrett, who also won the aggregate title in tie-down roping. "I rope with those guys all year and they kick your butt every once in a while and you kick their's. I didn't come here saying I was going to win the average. I just did what Ryan Jarrett always does. I just go steer for steer, calf for calf every night and let the rest take care of itself."
While Jarrett's earnings won him the all-around, which goes to the cowboy who wins money in multiple events, it wasn't the highest total won for the season.
That honor belonged to bull rider Matt Austin.
The 23-year-old Austin, from Wills Point, Texas set the PRCA's all-time earnings record for a single season with $320,765, breaking Ty Murray's record of $297,896.
Austin won the aggregate on his way to the world title and perhaps the most remarkable season for a bull rider in the history of the sport.
This year, Austin, who attends Hill College in Texas, won the bull riding title at the College National Finals Rodeo; the finals and the overall title of the PRCA's Xtreme Bulls Tour and the championship of the Championship Bull Riding Tour.
Murray, a nine-time world champion and member of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, was happy to see Austin eclipse his record, which Murray set while riding in all three roughstock events.
"It's nice to see that the money has grown to the point that a guy can break the record in one event," Murray said. "It took me three events to earn that much money. I've watched Matt ride here and he's done a fantastic job. I hope this sport keeps growing so he can come back here and beat his own record next year."
Another 23-year-old, Will Lowe (Canyon, Texas )won his second bareback title in three years, outdistancing defending world champion Kelly Timberman (Mills, Wyo.) by about $18,000.
Lowe, who came into the Wrangler NFR in the No. 1 position in the bareback world standings, finished the season with $185,485. He earned $57,674 of that at the NFR.
Lowe finished fourth in the aggregate standings, riding all 10 of his broncs for a total of 826.5 points. Timberman and Cimmaron Gerke (Fort Worth) shared the aggregate title, each scoring 837.5 points on 10 head.
Though Lowe didn't win a go-round, he placed in six of the 10 rounds.
"It's just something you have to go at the horse you have and not worry about where everything is going to fall," he said. "Just worry about riding and let the mathematics take care of the numbers."
Timberman was disappointed with his 10th-round score on the PRCA's bareback horse of the year, Real Deal. He was marked 83.5 points.
"I had a great finals, but when you set your goals and aspirations and do everything you can and they don't award you for it, it is very disappointing. I did split it with Cimmaron, and that is a great thing."
Lowe said the camaraderie between all the bareback riders makes winning the world title all the more special.
"Every one of the guys in the locker room are riding for first place every night," he said. "Nobody is riding for second place. Kelly and I are great friends. It wasn't a competition between me and him. We're just all trying to do our best on the horses that we draw."
The new kings of team roping are 26-year-old Clay Tryan (Billings, Mont.) and 25-year-old Patrick Smith (Midland, Texas).
They entered the NFR as the No. 1 team in the world standings and maintained their position by winning $71,682 during the NFR. They also set the NFR arena record and tied the world record along the way with a 3.5-second run in Saturday's ninth round.
They clinched the title with a 4.0 second run on Sunday, good for second in the round. The only team ahead of them in Sunday's go-round was the duo of Speed Williams and Rich Skelton, who had won the previous eight world titles in team roping.
"This is the ultimate," Tryan said. "It's what I've been waiting my whole life for."
In saddle bronc, 23-year-old Jeffrey Willert (Belvidere, S.D.) captured the world title with an event record $278,168 in earnings.
It was a storybook season for Willert, who two years ago was kicked in the head by a horse at the Reno Rodeo, suffering nerve damage and the loss of sight in his left eye.
"It feels really good," Willert said. "I don't think it has sunk in yet. It's hard to beat Billy (Etbauer) and Cody (DeMoss). I got lucky. I am all smiles. I am sure that my dad, grandparents and the whole town of Belvidere is excited, but it really hasn't sun in yet I don't think."
While the youngsters stole the show at the 2005 Wrangler NFR, several veterans showed they still have what it takes to win world titles as well.
Kelly Kaminski (Bellville, Texas) was the only world champion from 2004 to repeat.
She and her horse, Rocky, won $107,019 during the 10-day NFR and finished the season with $191,701, more than $31,000 ahead of second-place Linda Vick (Hesperia, Calif.).
She needed only a smooth run in the 10th round to clinch the title and she took Rocky around the barrels in 14.10 seconds. That was a night after she won the ninth round, but nearly tipped over the third barrel.
"I had an angel put that barrel up for me," she said. "It's just amazing. It took me a few months to get used to being called a world champion. Now I'm still the world champion, so it feels great."
Another competitor comfortable with the title of world champion is Fred Whitfield (Hockley, Texas), who captured his seventh gold buckle in tie-down roping.
He did it uncharacteristically quiet fashion for Whitfield, whose signature "raise the roof" has been a staple at the NFR for a decade. He didn't win a go-round, but his fifth-place finish in the aggregate gave him the world title by $4,000 over three-time world champion Cody Ohl.
"I gave myself a chance to win it," the 38-year-old Whitfield said. "I had a little bit of a bad week, but that's rodeo. It came down to a one-header and six guys had a chance to win it. That's what I live for."
The seven world titles puts Whitfield one title away from Dean Oliver's all-time record in tie-down roping. Whitfield said he'll be back on the road next year.
"I can't sit here in December and say I'm going to win another world championship," he said. "I'm going to go to about 75 rodeos and what happens will happen."
Veteran Lee Graves (Calgary, Alberta), 34 and a seven-time NFR qualifier, put together the best 10 rounds of his life in winning the aggregate title and the world championship. He just didn't know it for sure until after the 10th round was over.
"I didn't even watch one time on video any of my runs here," he said. "I didn't look at the standings. I just thought every night was a new day, a new rodeo. Stay focused and try to win something. It's just been unreal."
Graves placed in eight of the 10 go-rounds and earned a record $126,412 in the NFR on his way to $206,415 in total earnings for the season. He broke Rope Myers record of $117,744 won at the NFR set in 2001.
"When I did my victory lap, that's when it was the most thrilling thing that I've ever had in my whole career. It was just unbelievable. It's just awesome. Anybody who ever thinks about coming in here and winning the world title, it is a big accomplishment to do it. For me to do it once, just makes me want to do it again right now already."
Jason Lahr (Emporia, Kan.), who came into the NFR leading the world standings, finished second overall with $178,925 in total earnings for the year.