PUEBLO, Colo. – Wyatt Rogers had already purchased a flight from Tulsa International Airport to Tucson International Airport before he even arrived in Las Vegas for the PBR Challenger Series Finals last month.
There was no guarantee that Rogers would be in the draw for the Unleash The Beast season-opener in Tucson on Nov. 26-27, but he was confident he would get the job done at the Challenger Series Finals and earn a guaranteed UTB exemption.
That confidence was no joke.
Rogers may not have won the 2022 PBR Challenger Series Championship or Finals as he envisioned, but he still followed through on his goal of qualifying for the Unleash The Beast despite a buckoff in Las Vegas as he concluded the season No. 3 in the PBR Challenger Series Championship standings.
The Top-4 finish in the Challenger Series Standings earned Rogers four guaranteed UTB events to start the 2023 season, and he made sure to capitalize in Tucson. Rogers went 2-for-3 for a career-best 11th-place finish.
Rogers now heads into the PBR St. Louis Invitational, presented by Cooper Tires, ranked 11th in the Unleash The Beast standings.
“I was pretty confident about it, and I feel good with where I am at this year,” Rogers said. “It is always important to get off to a quick start so you can get a jump on the rest of the guys. I have always been good at getting that quick start, but it has always been on the Velocity Tour, so it is good to actually do it on the big tour now.”
The two rides were the first of Rogers’ career on the Unleash The Beast after going 0-for-8 in five previous events.
Rogers had appeared close to breaking onto the UTB full-time in the past year and a half, but two different injuries ultimately blocked his rise to the PBR’s elite tour. He first broke his right leg on May 22, 2021, in just his second career UTB event. He was then set to return to the UTB in 2022 after a third-place finish at the Denver PBR Chute Out Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour event, only to learn he had torn the PCL in his left knee, putting him out of competition for three months. Rogers was unable to qualify for the 2022 World Finals when he returned to action in April with one month left in the season.
“I came back too early with only three weeks left in the season,” Rogers said. “Physically and mentally, both have been battles in their own way. When I got hurt, I gained some extra weight. I had to work my way back, and mentally it just feels good to be riding good again. That was the goal all summer. Work my back to where I was at the start of last January.”
Rogers has drawn Delbert Sr. (9-10, UTB) on Round 1 Saturday night in St. Louis.
The journey back was a big one.
The 6-foot-1 bull rider has always been a larger guy, but his weight crawled up to 206 pounds during his recovery.
Rogers went undrafted at the PBR Team Series Draft, presented by ZipRecruiter, only adding to his frustration. However, Carolina Cowboys General Manager Austin Dillon and his leadership group remembered Rogers. The team felt he could potentially have a turnaround similar to that of 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis, who also struggled with his weight earlier in his career.
“That was part of the deal when I signed on with them,” Rogers said. “They said, ‘We think you and Cooper are very similar because when he first got to the PBR, he was a little heavy.’ They said, ‘If he could lose that weight too, you could have all of that ability like Cooper had.’ It wasn’t in the contract, but it was talked about.”
Rogers did not go on the full-blown chicken-and-brown-rice diet that Davis did because the two are very different-sized people. Instead, Rogers returned to his roots. The former high school basketball player and Oklahoma High School Rodeo Association champion put a greater emphasis on playing pickup ball at the local YMCA near Coweta, Oklahoma, and cut soda out of his diet.
Rogers went 15-for-34 on the PBR Challenger Series and eventually lost 22 pounds, dropping his weight to 184.
“It was a lot of working out and hard work,” Rogers said. “A lot of running. Cardio. I do a lot of work on the treadmill and outside. Any time I can play basketball, I go. That is an easy way to work out and not feel like you are necessarily working out.”
Now off to a good start to the UTB, Rogers has his sights on a few goals in 2023.
First, Rogers hopes to pursue the PBR Rookie of the Year title and increase his value. He is currently a free agent for the PBR Team Series, but he wouldn’t rule out returning to the Carolina Cowboys even though he did not get into a game for the team and was limited to the practice squad.
“I’m probably going to test free agency,” Rogers said. “This whole season is a showcase for everyone, and this is a way to show to everyone I shouldn’t have gone undrafted. Rookie of the Year this year, whatever it takes. That is the main goal for the 2023 season, and a world title is in there.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Todd Brewer/Bull Stock Media