LAS VEGAS — Dusty Tuckness said he wasn’t nervous when he sprinted into the Thomas and Mack Center for the first round of the National Finals Rodeo.
Tuckness couldn’t afford to be nervous.
If he’s nervous, then there is trouble in the arena and if there is trouble, somebody gets hurt.
The 23-year-old Tuckness isn’t roping or riding at his first NFR. He’s got a more important job.
Tuckness is one of the bull fighters. It’s his job to protect the bull riders, even if it means throwing himself between a fallen rider and an angry ton of beef.
“To be honest, I wasn’t nervous,” he said. “I felt real comfortable out there.”
Tuckness is working the NFR along with Darrell Diefenbach and Clay Collins. The NFR bull fighters are selected on a vote by the top 20 bull riders in the world standings.
“To take a situation that is so unpredictable, pick it apart where everybody walks out OK, that is the goal,” Tuckness said of his job. “Working the NFR is something I looked forward to since the day I knew what bull fighting was.
“To be here, in Las Vegas, working with the top cowboys, is a dream come true.”
Tuckness, of Meeteetse, Wyo., is no stranger to bull fighting.
His father Timber Tuckness is a long-time bull fighter and barrel man, who has worked many of the top rodeos in the region.
“Dad was a big influence,” said Tuckness. “I went to rodeos with him when I was a kid and I fell in love with the bull fighting part of it. I started when I was 10 years old. He took me through the whole thing, sheep, steers, junior bulls, all the way through.
“I got help from so many different bullfighters, dad, Rob Smets, Miles Hare, Rex Dunn … I’ve tried to take a little piece of each one of their skills and create my own style.”
The 5-11, 175-pound former all-state football player, “Playing sports probably helped me with the contact,” he said, Tuckness is known for his quick feet and willingness to take a horn to the body.
“You try to read everything before it’s even started so you can position yourself,” Tuckness said. “Then you’re already there if something happens.”
The bull riders aren’t the only ones noticing Tuckness’ ascending talents in the arena. In 2009, he worked many of the major rodeos, including Houston, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Cody, Wyo., Casper, Wyo., the Xtreme Bulls Tour stop in Greeley, Colo., and the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo.
Tuckness also recently won his second straight world title with partner Andy Burrelle in the Professional Bull Fighters organization.
“I’m just thankful those rodeos hired me and hopefully, they’ll bring me back next year,” he said of his 2010 schedule.
While he is at the top of his game, Tuckness won’t be resting on his baggy laurels.
“I have to keep my head to the ground and keep working hard,” he said. “I have to keep getting better. I’ll watch video and see where I can improve.”
And he wouldn’t mind a return trip to Las Vegas a year from now.
“I’d like to make this an annual appearance,” he said quietly. “It’s truly an honor to be here.”