Ryan Gray and Tyson Durfey have left themselves very little wiggle room.
If they want to accomplish much more than they did in 2008 they’re going to be world champion cowboys, which is what they are aiming for.
The 25-year-olds who list Spokane County addresses as home both finished second in the average at the National Finals Rodeo, which completed its 10-day run in Las Vegas on Saturday.
That propelled Gray, a Cheney native who now lives in Texas, to fourth in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association bareback riding standings, and Durfey, a Missouri native now living in Colbert, to seventh in the tie-down roping standings.
As Gray said: “I’m happy with it. I filled my sack and had a good time.”
Another local cowboy, bull rider Zack Oakes, who lists Elk as his home, didn’t have the same kind of success. He only rode two bulls, winning just more than $14,000.
Gray and Durfey completed their tasks 10 straight times under the most extreme pressure and placed in the money (paid out daily to the top six) six times. With second place on average paying almost $35,000, they certainly did fill their sacks.
Gray picked up more than $87,000 to finish at $179,414 for the season, while Durfey hauled in more than $85,000 to reach $156,475.
“It was a pretty good deal,” Durfey said. “I was able to rope pretty good. The only thing that could have been better is if I would have won the world championship.”
Durfey, who broke 10 seconds every trip except one (12.9), had a 10-round total of 88.3 seconds, which would have won five of the previous 10 NFR’s and was 1.2 seconds behind Stran Smith of Childress, Texas. The NFR record is 84.0.
“It was kind of hard for me to swallow,” Durfey said of being runner-up. “I knew I needed to win the last round and win the average to be world champion. I drew a calf that nobody ever won on and I knew Stran had a good one. I tried my best, it didn’t work out (placing sixth to Smith’s second).
“I’m also pretty young, hopefully it’s in my future. In my mind I know I can do it.”
Durfey’s game plan was based on the experience from last year, when he was 11th in the average to finish 11th for the season.
“Last year I didn’t perform nearly as well,” he said. “I was able to grow from it and learn. … I was able to make a complete U-turn as far as my performance.
“My game plan was to just go at it, don’t worry about the what ifs, if you break a barrier, if you miss. Just go at it and try to win money in all the rounds.”
Durfey won the second go-round and had a second and a third within the first four days.
“That’s very crucial at the NFR,” he said. “It’s good to get off to a good start so you don’t panic or get nervous halfway through if you don’t have any money won.”
Gray was just as impressive. In fact, his 846 total for 10 rides tied the NFR record – before Justin McDaniel broke it by scoring 859.
Gray accomplished that despite a mild concussion suffered midway through the competition.
“It wasn’t too bad, it messed with my equilibrium and balance,” he said. “That same thing happened to me there last year. About halfway through I hit my head off the horse’s back. It kind of makes you go cross-eyed. I had to baby it all week, make sure I didn’t hit my head again. I never had any problems.”
The biggest thing was that McDaniel, from Porum, Okla., just kept riding like a champion, charging from 10th going in with $90,000 in winnings, to $216,967. All 10 of Gray’s rides were scored in the 80s, but McDaniel never scored lower than 84.
“When you get on 10 in a row like that, you’re going to draw all different kinds,” said Gray, who was at his fourth Finals. “I felt like I rode pretty good. There were a few times I could have rode better and a few times I could have drawed better. That’s the way it goes. It’s never perfect; you have to take advantage of every opportunity.
“Overall it went pretty good. Everything happens for a reason, you can’t dwell on it or start looking over shoulder.”
Gray rode all 10 last year and tied for fourth in the average (815) to finish sixth in the final standings. He was also sixth in 2005, his first NFR, and 13th in 2006.
Both cowboys are now in the Phoenix area, Gray visiting his in-laws for the holidays, Durfey practicing, and plan to begin the long 2009 run in Denver next month.
“My good horse, Bailey, that I won everything on, I’m going to give him a couple week vacation,” Durfey said. “In the meantime I’m still working on my roping.”
Oakes’ struggles were typical among bull riders. Champion J.W. Harris rode the most with six, only two competitors covered five and five made four rides. Only two cowboys scored the last day.
The saddle broncs of the Big Bend and Flying Five rodeo companies owned by Don Hutsell of Ritzville and Sonny Riley of Pomeroy also had a good week.
In cowboy balloting for the top stock of the Finals, Spring Blues was second, Sunday was third and Cool Toddy was fifth. All were put in the final performance and bucked their cowboy off. Also Cajun Queen was selected for the final performance in bareback riding.