Tuesday , December 05, 2017 - 5:00 AM
J.C. Malone practices roping calves near his home in Plain City on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2017. In December, Malone is heading to Las Vegas to compete in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Heading to his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo starting Thursday in Las Vegas, Malone said barely missing the top 15 cutoffs last year taught him the discipline he’d need to make it this time.
He lost out when a competitor edged past him with a win at the last rodeo of the season in 2016.
“It was the worst experience but it also was the difference maker,” Malone said. “I told myself that I wasn’t going to be out of the top 15 this year.”
He competed at every rodeo like it was his last.
“You have to treat every calf like it’s the most important one of the year,” he said. “That way, your mentality is so much better.”
Malone’s qualification with $86,299 in winnings this year comes late in his career. He’s 32 years old.
“I’ve succeeded but I’ve failed a lot, too,” he said. “I’ve never given up.”
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The difference that started Malone down a path of success, doubling his winnings two years in a row, was leasing the horse he now uses, a mare named Lucy, he said.
“Three years ago when we made the lease, that has made the biggest difference,” Malone said. “She fits me.”
Malone went from winning $17,868 in 2013 to $31,151 in 2014. In 2015, he won $65,297, finishing 18th in the world standings.
Last year, he won $64,062.
The added $22,000 this season could mean as much as an extra $100,000 — Malone’s goal — by the end of the Wrangler National Finals, deemed the world’s richest rodeo.
“They have the money up,” Malone said. “Someone’s got to win it. I’m looking at putting a lot of money away down there.”
This year’s national finals purse is more than $10 million in total, reports say.
“I look to doubling my standings,” Malone said. “I have high expectations going down. I feel like my age and maturity will help me.”
A majority of Malone’s competitors are younger than him, he said.
While he believes good coaching has produced highly talented young athletes, Malone believes his life experience will give him an edge when it comes to staying mentally in the game.
Former coach Kyle Kosoff, previously of West Haven, said Malone’s mental toughness helped him overcome many barriers.
“It’s hard to keep your mind in it and he can do that,” Kosoff said.
Kosoff, now of Honeyville, described Malone as a natural athlete with the right support system who has found a winning combination of rodeo travel partners.
“We aren’t supposed to make it up here,” Kosoff said of tie-down ropers from Utah. “We are not Texans. Someone from up here has to work harder.”
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With more competitors and added money for tie-down roping in Texas, Kosoff said Utahns who want in on those funds have to give up time in the practice pen in order to stay away from home for events there.
Starting at 15 — relatively late in his life for tie-down roping — Malone said Kosoff’s coaching made him the athlete he is today.
“All through high school, my dad would haul me over and I would take a lesson from Kyle Kosoff,” he said. “He got me a foundation. ... He made it super fun for me.”
Kosoff is a well-known local athlete who holds the record of seven RAM Wilderness Circuit titles in tie-down roping.
Looking up to Kosoff, Malone was willing to try any suggestion, both said.
Both Malone and Kosoff also gave much credit to Malone’s large family of supporters and traveling partners for his success.
But it’s the same supportive family atmosphere that will keep Malone out of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo after a few years, he said.
Malone has been away on the rodeo circuit for about 200 days a year lately — too many for a family man, he said.
This year, Malone traveled to 93 out of the 100 rodeos he was allowed.
“You can do it in less rodeos, but it’s hard,” he said. “There are so many guys who rope so well.”
Despite his rigorous schedule, Malone said he’s done everything he can to be a father.
“If I’m states away and I have a few down days, I have flown home,” Malone said. “I have never missed a birthday. I fly home for a day or two and fly back where I need to. I make that a priority.”
Malone plans to soon open a rodeo school to give younger competitors the same experience his coach gave him.