Talented athletes compete on collegiate and pro circuits

By Brett Hoffman | Published Wednesday, December 27, 2017

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Imagine a super talented receiver playing football for Texas Tech on Saturday and then suiting up for the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

In reality, that could not happen. Athletes are not allowed to play for the NCAA and the NFL at the same time. But in the sport of rodeo, athletes are allowed to compete on the collegiate and pro circuits at the same time.

One cowboy who has thrived on both the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuits within the past year is Wesley Thorp, a 22-year-old Texas Tech student who has homes in Throckmorton and in Stephenville.

In June, Thorp and Texas Tech teammate Cole Wheeler clinched the NIRA’s 2016-2017 team roping title at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo.

At the same time, Thorp also was thriving on the PRCA circuit. In late June, for example, he and his partner Cody Snow won the Reno Rodeo in Nevada, which is the first major summer pro rodeo. Thorp and Snow each earned $7,574 in Reno, which in turn helped them qualify for the PRCA’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

The 2017 National Finals was Dec. 7-16 at the Thomas and Mack Center on the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus.

During the 10-day NFR, Thorp and Snow each earned $33,480. After the last steer was roped at the Las Vegas championships, Thorp finished 14th in the 2017 team roping world title race after earning $114,317 throughout the entire year.

After clinching the team roping title last summer at the Casper-based collegiate rodeo championships, Thorp has opted to only compete on the pro circuit from this point on. But he clearly demonstrated how a cowboy can thrive on both.

“It comes down to just managing time,” Thorp said. “Fortunately, when we’re rodeoing, we have a lot of down time. In the fall, when college rodeo is going on, there are not as many pro rodeos. And in the winter and spring, we’re home most of the time. The summer is the busiest time for pro rodeo and so I don’t take any college classes.”

On the college circuit, Texas Tech students compete in only five regional rodeos during the fall semester and five more during the spring semester as they attempt to qualify for the June College National Finals, which gives a world class competitor such as Thorp plenty of time to also pursue a pro rodeo career.

Thorp also competed in the PRCA’s 2016 National Finals Rodeo while he was enrolled at Texas Tech and was faring well on the school’s rodeo team in the NIRA Southwest Region. He pocketed $74,519 at the 2016 NFR while roping with heading partner Zac Small. He finished ninth in the PRCA’s team roping title race after earning $138,221 throughout 2016.

But this year, Thorp teamed up with Snow on the PRCA circuit, and the duo has had remarkable success. At the 2017 NFR, for example, Thorp and Snow tied for first in Round 6 on Dec. 12, after turning in a time of 3.7 seconds. Thorp and Snow each earned $23,481 for splitting the round win with Riley Minor and Brady Minor who also turned in a 3.7.

Though Thorp opted to not compete on the college rodeo circuit during the 2017 fall semester as he heavily concentrates on the PRCA circuit, he has continued to chip away at completing a bachelor’s degree at Texas Tech. Thorp said he’s working on an online degree called university studies that has a heavy emphasis on business classes. Thorp said he took 12 hours online during the 2017 fall semester. He said he will attempt to graduate from Texas Tech in December 2018.

“My main job right now is rodeoing, but my priority also is getting my degree,” he said.


Barrel racer Hailey Kinsel, who is from the South Texas town of Cotulla, is another competitor who has thrived on the pro and collegiate circuits at the same time during the past year.

Kinsel first commanded respect when she clinched the barrel racing title at the RFD-TV’s The American in February at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. At the time, she was a Texas A&M student. But at The American, she thrived against the world’s top professionals. She earned $433,333 in prize money when she clinched the barrel racing title.

In June, Kinsel clinched the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s 2016-2017 barrel racing title at the Casper-based College National Finals Rodeo while competing for Texas A&M. (Kinsel graduated from Texas A&M in May 2017 with a degree in agriculture economics.)

In July, Kinsel commanded respect on the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association circuit in dramatic fashion. She earned the Gold Medal as the result of clinching the barrel racing title at the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games and Rodeo in Salt Lake City and the $50,000 prize that went with winning the medal, which in turn helped her qualify for the NFR for the first time.

At the 2017 NFR, Kinsel grabbed lots of attention. For example, she won Round 3 on Dec. 9 after turning in time of 13.11 seconds, which is an NFR/Thomas and Mack Center arena record time in barrel racing.

Kinsel earned $189,384 throughout the 2017 NFR. She finished second in the WPRA’s 2017 barrel racing world title race with $288,091.

Brody Cress, a Tarleton State student from Hillsdale, Wyo., is another competitor who has thrived on the college and pro circuits at the same time this year.

Cress finished second in the saddle bronc riding world title race after earning $282,286 throughout 2017. He pocketed $176,621 at the 2017 NFR. He was the only saddle bronc rider who made a qualified ride on all 10 broncs at the NFR. As a result, he won the average/aggregate title in addition to finishing runner-up in the world title race behind 2017 world champion Ryder Wright.

Cress graduated from Tarleton on Dec. 15 with a bachelor’s degree in agri-business. During the 2018 spring semester, he will be a graduate student at Tarleton. As a college rodeo competitor, Cress is in his final season of eligibility.

Cress, who has competed at the College National Finals Rodeo twice, is on pace to return to the Casper championships again this year. He currently is ranked No. 1 in the 2017-2018 NIRA Southwest Region saddle bronc riding title race.

Brett Hoffman, a Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame member, has reported on rodeos for more than three decades for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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