CHEYENNE – Brody Cress will never downplay a berth in the National Finals Rodeo.

The 25-year-old saddle bronc rider knows full well how hard it is to earn one of the 15 spots in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s year-end event. There are so many good horses and so many good cowboys on the circuit, not to mention the variety of good and bad things that can happen over the course of the season. NFR spots aren’t guaranteed.

Nevertheless, Cress no longer hopes to merely reach the NFR each season. The 2015 Cheyenne East graduate now expects to make it to Las Vegas.

“I set the expectation of being at the NFR consistently for myself after I made it that first year,” said Cress, who will compete in his fifth NFR starting tonight. “I know I’m good enough to be there. As long as I put the time in, keep working towards it and stay positive, I should be there every year.”

Cress enters the NFR third in the PRCA world standings with more than $142,200 in earnings. Stetson Wright leads the world with $193,000. Two-time world champion Ryder Wright, Stetson’s older brother, is second at nearly $182,000.

The first of 10 NFR rounds is tonight. The final round is Dec. 11.

Cress won aggregate titles at the NFR in 2017 and 2019. He finished second in the world standings both of those years.

The 2020 NFR was a struggle, though. Cress placed in just five rounds and finished 11th in the aggregate to finish third in the world standings.

Cress blames himself for an NFR showing that wasn’t up to his standards. He spent too much time tinkering with his saddle and not enough time focusing on the horse he drew each round.

“I was in my own head a little bit and being a little too negative instead of relaxing, realizing I was prepared and having fun,” Cress said. “There was stuff on the saddle that bothered me throughout the year, and I was working on it constantly.

“I had gotten a new one I was trying to figure out instead of just focusing on riding the one that I had ridden all year. I had gotten all the kinks out of it, but thought switching it out was the way to go. That created more chaos and didn’t help me get prepared like I should have been.”

Cress feels confident going into this year’s NFR.

“I’ve taken the time to prepare, I have an amazing team that has helped me get ready,” he said. “I’ve been able to go a couple different places to practice. It’s allowed me to get stuff put together and be on track to go out and focus on doing what I need to do.”

Cress won eight rodeos this season, and was co-champion at three others. That included winning the Calgary Stampede, which is one of the sport’s crown jewels. This is the first year the PRCA allowed contestants to count $25,000 of their Calgary bonuses toward their season totals.

“There was a time or two throughout the season I struggled and had to get by some stuff and fix some things,” Cress said. “I was able to stay focused and take it one horse at a time. There were horses I shouldn’t have been winning on that I won on, and horses that I should have won on that I did. That’s what you should do.”

Cress credits his traveling partners Isaac Diaz and Shorty Garrett for helping him stay level-headed throughout the season. Diaz and Garrett are rodeo veterans and are well-versed in the highs and lows of the sport.

“You can get negative about the horses you’re drawing and what’s happening to you at rodeos,” Cress said. “It seems like once a year I have to remember I can only control certain things and that I need to focus on those things.

“We help each other remember that every guy goes through struggles because of the amount of rodeos we go to.”

Cress has reached the NFR five times in seven true seasons as a professional. He has been a runner-up twice and finished third once. As he enters this year’s NFR third in the world, Cress is confident that it’s not a matter of if he wins his first world title but a matter of when.

“I have all the tools I need,” Cress said. “It’s about taking it one horse at a time and implementing those things every time and not just at the start or end of the season or at the start or end of the NFR.

“There’s a lot that can happen during the NFR. There’s a lot of money to be won there. I’m getting myself mentally and physically prepared to go out there. I have all the tools and experience necessary to win a title. Now, it’s about making it happen.”

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at jjohnke@wyosports.net or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.

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