Jun. 14—Tim Murphy's first ride at the College National Finals Rodeo came a year later than he expected.
It also came a few moments sooner.
"I thought we were going to start on the other side," the Hill College bareback bronc rider said. "So I was kind of relaxing. Everything was fine. Kind of get to see a few horses buck."
Then the lights went out.
"They told me, 'You're first. Get screwed down,'" he said. "And I had no time to think about it. My heart just goes nuts right then and there, but we were able to get it right and get everything the way it needed to be."
Murphy, who qualified for the CNFR that never happened in 2020, was the first cowboy to take to the arena Sunday afternoon at the first college finals since the start of COVID-19 pandemic. The junior rode Frontier Rodeo's Memphis King for a score of 71, giving the Ford Wyoming Center a chance to start the 2021 rodeo with a cheer.
"I like for that crowd to go to hoopin' and a-hollerin'," he said. "You've got everybody on the back of the bucking chutes amping you up, telling you to bear down and go have fun. That's a game-changer, you know, to have everybody behind you and just the crowd pumping you up. You can't beat that feeling. That's what we do it for. It's awesome."
The fun didn't stop with the first ride.
The first section of riders included three scores of 80 or more: an 83 from Western Texas College's Jacob Lees, an 80 from Sam Houston State's Lane McGehee and an 80 from Missouri Valley College's Ty Pope.
Pope, the Ozark Region's all-around champion this reason, is trying to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Jess, a fellow Viking who won the National Finals Rodeo bareback bronc average in 2020.
Ty Pope's 80 came atop Frontier Rodeo's Golden Girl.
"I seen a couple videos, and she's kind of a handful sometimes," he said. "Just a little longer and a little heavier, and you've kind of got to ride her straight up and down. But after that third jump, I just let it roll. I come here to win. Ain't got nothing to lose. She's a real good horse and good enough to set me up pretty good going into the second round."
No one is in a better position, however, than Clarendon College's Cole Franks, who won the first go-round with a ride of 83.5, edging out Lees by half a point.
"He's just real electric, real flashy," Franks said of Vold Rodeo's Karate Hottie. "Just leap up in the air and kick. Just helps you out a lot. ... Almost a perfect horse to get on, really."
Waylon Bourgeois of McNeese State finished third in the go-round with an 81.5 on Frontier Rodeo's Under Fire.
"I had a buddy that got on her at Dodge City, and he said she bucked," Bourgeois said. "And that's what we want. That's how you're going to win. The moment she came out, she had a little stutter step and I just held it through her. And whenever she broke, I went to spurring on her."
The junior, who rode in the second section of bareback bronc riding Sunday, said seeing the first riders put up so many strong scores helped set a positive tone.