Franks finds comfort zone at NFR

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LAS VEGAS – Throughout his first regular season in ProRodeo, Cole Franks looked like anything but a bareback riding rookie.

He rode well, and did it often, and he pulled off some big wins along the way. He won the bareback riding and all-around national titles at the College National Finals Rodeo in June, helping his Clarendon (Texas) College to the men’s team title. He finished the 2021 regular season 12th in the world standings and the bareback riding Rookie of the Year.

“I was very nervous when I realized I was gunner (first out), and I knew it was either going to be really good or not good at all,” said Franks, who rode Hi Lo Pro Rodeo’s Midnight Kid for 87 points to finish in a tie for third place in the first round of this year’s NFR. “Everybody knows I’m a little slow in the chute, and I was really thinking about that.

“Then I realized I was gunner at San Angelo (Texas): First performance, first guy out in the long round, so I was like, ‘Maybe that’s where I need to be.’ I changed my mindset to start off and got some of the money.”

Just like he did when he won the first round in west Texas, Franks found his way to the pay window. He pocketed $13,716 and moved up one spot to 11th in the world standings. But winning is nothing new to Franks, whose father, Bret, was a three-time qualifier in saddle bronc riding and his son’s coach through his first two years of college. Cole Franks is now a junior at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri.

While his father was an NFR veteran, the younger Franks looked like one in his first ride inside the famous Priefert gates wrapped around the arena that hosts ProRodeo’s grand championship.

Only the top 15 contestants in each event at the end of the regular season advance to the NFR, which is a pressure-packed situation no matter how many times a cowboy has been in Las Vegas. Add into the fact that Franks is still in college, and it’s a small wonder he’s in position to make some big-time money over 10 days in the Nevada desert.

“It was surreal when I got here the other day,” Franks said. “There are so many emotions that I don’t even know what I was feeling. It was like a big boom.  I don’t even know what emotion it was. It was just incredible.”

It was also incredible that he was matched with a horse that fit his style pretty well in Midnight Kid.

“I’ve seen that horse a few times, and from the very first time I saw him, I knew I wanted to put my riggin’ on that thing,” he said. “There’s no better place than to do it than here.”

He may be new to the City of Lights, but he looks pretty comfortable already. He’s pushed his season earnings to $101,110.

“Yeah, I like it here,” Franks said.

Franks handles 3rd-round fight

LAS VEGAS – To most men, the thought of entering the ring with the greatest heavyweight fighters in the world wouldn’t be considered.

Bareback riders aren’t like most men. They don’t mind a prize fight, and Saturday’s third round at the National Finals Rodeo was a 15-round bout. It was Cole Franks’ first foray in the NFR’s “Eliminator Pen,” and he matched up just fine.

“It’s really nerve-wracking,” said Franks, 20, an NFR newcomer from Clarendon, Texas. “When I was waiting on the draw last night, I was getting really anxious and couldn’t sit still.”

By the time he nodded his head, Franks was ready. He rode Four Star Rodeo’s Deep Springs for 85 points to finish sixth in the round, worth $4,352. He has pushed his NFR earnings to $28,071.

“I got really lucky that I drew one I had been on before, which worked out the jitters since I knew what to expect more,” he said. “I hadn’t been on any of these other horses before.”

This was the first night the toughest-to-ride horses in the world are scheduled to be out at this year’s NFR. They will return next Thursday for the eighth round, and they definitely earned their moniker by being true eliminators. High scores were hard to come by, and a couple of cowboys hit the Thomas & Mack Center dirt hard after being bucked off.

Franks had ridden Deep Springs for 82 points in Pendleton, Oregon, this past September, and that allowed him a bit more confidence when it came to trying to spur the strong animal.

“It was definitely a dog fight both times I had him,” Franks said. “he’s real strong and pumps his head, and the rigging drops out of there. He’s just real big and strong.”

The bareback riders get a bit of a break heading into the next two nights. Sunday’s fourth round will feature the “Hopper Pen” of bucking horses, the animals that are supposed to be the easiest to ride. Monday’s fifth round will expose the “TV Pen,” which will showcase the most electric bucking horses in bareback riding.

“I’m going to have to let it all hang out, because it’s going to be a spurring contest,” he said, referring to the cowboys spurring from the horse’s neck back to the rigging in rhythm with the animal’s bucking motion. “Really the only way you’re going to get rewarded (Sunday) night is if you make the perfect ride.”

Of course, as one of the top 15 bareback riders in ProRodeo, he knew it was going to be a battle over 10 December nights to decide this year’s world championship.

“It’s awesome to be part of this field,” Franks said. Everyone here makes you bring your best, too. Everybody here wants you to win just as badly as you want to win, and they’re going to push you to try and beat them.”

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