With references to cowboys and fourth quarters, readers might assume this is an article about football.
But it’s about real cowboys — those with horses, ropes and 400-pound steers. Cowboys for whom the fourth quarter refers to the last weeks of the rodeo season, which we happen to be in.
Over the next few weeks, Nick DeLeon, a cowboy and professional team roper from Cygnet, will vie for a coveted spot at the International Finals Rodeo at Lazy E Arena in January. It wouldn’t be taking the analogy too far to call it the Super Bowl of rodeos.
“We’re sitting really good going into the fourth quarter,” DeLeon, 34, said. “I couldn’t have told you in May that this would be where we’re at. When we first started the year, our goal was to make the APRA (American Professional Rodeo Association) final. Then we had a good Fourth of July run and bumped up to top 10 in world. That’s when we decided to go for it and see if we can make it happen.”
DeLeon is a heeler in team roping, which means he ropes a steer by its hind feet after the header has turned it. He has been roping consistently with Brazilian header Junior Fornazin this season. As of this writing DeLeon was ranked 9th in heeler team roping world standings, and Fornazin was ranked 6th in header team roping world standings.
“Junior came over about five years ago from Brazil, and we met at a jackpot in Ohio one night,” DeLeon said. “Come to find out, he only lives about an hour and 20 minutes from where I live. Our styles fit, so we decided to go some places and see what happened. He’s been a real big part of the places I’ve been to.”
DeLeon also credits his grandfather’s 11-year-old quarter horse Bambino for his success this year.
“I have a really good horse right now, probably my best in the past 8 years,” he said. “He’s just really quiet and easy to get along with. We really started clicking early this summer.”
In addition to his world ranking, DeLeon is ranked eighth in the Mid-States Finals Rodeo standings and 3rd in the APRA standings. He’s had big wins and qualifications at the Bob Feist Invitational in Guthrie, Oklahoma, the World Series of Team Roping Championships in Las Vegas, and various regional rodeos. Recently, he competed in his 16th Mid-States Finals Rodeo in Swanton, where he has won heading, heeling, and rookie of the year championships. Next month, he’ll compete in his first APRA finals.
A few other rodeos will round out DeLeon’s season, which runs from May through October. He should know by the end of November if he and Fornazin qualified for the IFR.
Born and raised on his grandfather Tom Roberts’ farm in Springfield Township, DeLeon grew up around horses.
“I started riding horses when I was 5 or 6, roping when I was 8 or 10,” he said. “To be honest, I wasn’t really into riding horses at the start. Once I started roping, that’s when I started taking a liking to it. It would let me get lost in my own thing. It was kind of my get away, what I did every night after school.”
DeLeon’s parents Tina Brown and Carlos DeLeon have been big supporters, but he said his grandfather and family friends Bob Thibert, a header, and John Talip, a fellow heeler, have really helped him get to where he’s at now. His grandma Sue, who passed away last year, was also instrumental in his upbringing.
“They’re all still in my corner. I’ve been fortunate to have good people on my side and good horses,” he said. “And now my son (Brand, 3) is getting involved. He always has to carry a rope around and wants to ride horses every day. I’m 100% behind him whatever he wants to do, but it’s awesome to see him out there.”
The family involvement doesn’t stop there. DeLeon’s wife, Ashley, is a barrel racer.
“It truly takes a team both in the arena and at home to make rodeo life work,” she said. “In addition to running a household and working, you also have to be disciplined to exercise your horses at least a few days a week and that’s where I come in.
“And so far Brand loves this lifestyle. He helps with chores around the farm, can ride horses independently, and has even started learning how to rope. We try to make this a fun experience for him so he will want to keep doing this.”