Two years ago, Cole Wheeler had the experience of competing at the College National Finals Rodeo as a Weatherford College freshman.
Last season as a sophomore, he was not fortunate enough to make a return trip.
But, with college rodeo rules allowing athletes to compete at a community college for three years, Wheeler figured he'd try to get back to the CNFR this season to compete for Weatherford College one last time.
And that's exactly what has happened. The Bullard, Texas native is one of four WC athletes heading to the CNFR in Casper, Wyoming June 11-18. He will be competing in team roping.
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Joining Wheeler will be record-setting tie down roper Lane Livingston, team roper Casey Tew, and Aspyn Dent in goat tying. Tew also advanced with Wheeler in 2014, when, for the first time in school history the entire WC men's team qualified.
"I decided to come back to WC because I really enjoy going to school here," Wheeler said of his return. "I wish it was a four-year (school) where I could stay."
It is, however, not and this trip to nationals will be Wheeler's final competition for WC. He believes the experience of two years ago, which in the mind of an athlete is forever, will help this time.
His coach, Johnny Emmons, agrees.
"Cole is an outstanding competitor who's won some major professional ropings," Emmons said. "He and his partner (Wesley Thorpe of Ranger College) will be one of the top-rated teams at the CNFR, and with both having CNFR experience, I am confident they can win a national title."
Wheeler also said having missed going last year makes this trip even more thrilling.
"I am way more excited about this year since I have had the experience of making it before," he said. "I feel like I know what I am getting myself into now."
After all, until someone competes at nationals, one doesn’t fully know what to expect. Wheeler has competed, and said he knows how to fully prepare.
"I kind of know the setup now, so I will be able to practice for it," he said.
Wheeler and his WC teammates came on strong as the regular season came to a close. He's counting on that finish to push them as they go to Casper.
"This year was pretty rough until the last two rodeos of the year. I am just excited we were fortunate enough to qualify," he said. "It's good to know that we have three other kids that are able to go and try to win for WC."
Wheeler said he would like to compete regularly as a professional following college. He currently competes in pro rodeos now, alongside college events.
As for what college he will next compete for, Wheeler said he has narrowed his list down to a couple of schools. For now, however, he is focused on nationals.
And he and his teammates are brimming with confidence. Why wouldn't they after enjoying success in the Southwest Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, considered by many the toughest in the nation.
"I feel like we have one of the toughest regions there is," Wheeler said. "Coming out of it would give anyone confidence."