Jeff Collins admits that there’s nothing special about his approach to rodeo.
“One ride and one run at a time,” the Panola College head coach said. “If we do that, we’re going to feel like winners.”
Collins and the Ponies aren’t just feeling like winners; they are winners after claiming the Collegiate National Finals Rodeo last Saturday night at the Casper Events Center in Casper, Wyoming.
The Ponies finished with 825 points to easily outdistance Hill College (675) and Clarendon College (660)
“It’s just unreal. I knew early in the year the way we were put together we’d be tough to beat at the regional level and at nationals, too,” Collins said. “Dr. (Gregory) Powell and Dr. (Don) Clinton gave me the money to go out and get the right people. We’re still all really high from this experience.
“The team is made up of six incredible young men. I know exactly what type of effort and will that each one of them will give each day. We are so proud of them and what they have accomplished.”
The biggest accomplishment would come from freshman Daylon Swearingen, who took first place in bull riding and was named Rookie of the Year in bull riding as well as Men’s Rookie of the Year. Tyler Johnson had the next best finish with a second place in bareback riding. Macon Murphy was tie down Rookie of the Year.
“Each one of them is going to be able to do this as a living,” Collins said. “”I know from being in the pro rodeo world that they can all be on the pro circuit. And I told them that before Nationals.
“Logan Cook is a two-time, all-region, all-around so he’s been there before. Tyler Johnson was supposed to go last year, but he shattered his leg and had to sit out. So he was still hungry. Macon Murphy is a rookie and hasn’t been as far as the other guys. But he has a great work ethic and I bet he’s put on 20 pounds of muscle.
“Daylon Swearingen is not only a great college bull rider, he’s also on the PBR Tour. We only had him for half a year because of an injury. Ross Freeman missed half a year because of shoulder surgery, but he came back stronger than ever. And Clayton Lowry is just surgical with a rope and he has all the confidence in the world.
“We ended up with the right guys in just the right spot.”
The Ponies will lose half of the championship team as Cook, Freeman and Johnson will all move on, but Murphy Swearingen and Lowry are all supposed to return to help defend the title.
“Having half of them back will be good,” Collins said. “It’s going to hurt some because Tyler is going on to Sam Houston and they’re in the same region as us. I have to replace half the team, but I’ve had years when we lost five out of six.
“There’s always somebody out there into stepping up and putting in the hard work.”
This was Collins’ fifth season and the Ponies best showing under him at the CNFR was 13th.
“We had a lot of guys get close, but this was our best year by far,” he said. “I don’t know how or when we’ll be able to top that.”
The euphoria over this title hasn’t kept Collins from starting his search for replacements so the Ponies can repeat.
“You don’t know what the future is so the main thing they did at the college finals is do the best they could on the next animal and take advantage of every opportunity,” Collins said. “I can’t guarantee another title, but I guarantee we’ll put everything we’ve got into it. We want it to always be something that’s in our sights.”