Kaleb Driggers, right, ropes a calf’s head while his partner, Jade Corkill, prepares to rope his back legs in a preliminary competition before the national finals coming up in Las Vegas next month. Driggers and Corkill are the nation’s No. 3 roping team.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Not many mamas in Southwest Georgia let their babies grow up to be cowboys.
Thankfully for Kaleb Driggers of Albany, his mom, Laura, didn't object to his cowboy ways. In fact, both his mom and his dad, Nick, encouraged him to pursue his dream.
Driggers has done well for himself. He will participate in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas Dec. 6-15, entering the competition as half of the No. 3 team roping team in the country.
He and his partner, Jade Corkill of Fallon, Nev., each won $110,228 during the regular rodeo season. That total could improve substantially if Driggers and Corkill win the national event.
Driggers will be among the top rodeo stars in the country competing during 10 nights of competition held by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Women's Professional Rodeo Association.
They will be seeking their share of more than $6 million in prize money. Driggers will be in the finals for the third time.
Driggers is a rarity in the sense that few people from the Deep South participate in professional rodeo. The majority of association members are from Texas and Oklahoma. He'll be the only contestant representing Georgia in Las Vegas.
However, there is a record of success for Georgia competitors. Several years ago, Jimmy Tanner from Tift County and Brad Culpepper from Worth County won first place in team roping at the nationals.
Driggers, 22, moved to Albany from Hoboken about a decade ago. He attended Baconton Community Charter School before hitting the rodeo circuit.
"I was fortunate because I've been doing this since I was little," Driggers said. "My whole family encouraged me and was involved in roping. I started roping when I was 6."
He excelled in the junior high and high school ranks before joining the circuit four years ago.
Life on the road is demanding, Driggers said. The professional season begins in January and lasts for about nine months. The cowboys then take a break before competing in the finals.
"It's pretty tough sometimes," he said. "It can get long and boring when you are not competing. I go out by myself about half the time, and my partner and I travel together about half the time."
Driggers said he travels in an RV specially built with living space up front for him and accommodations for his horse in the back.
He noted that the season starts in January in Texas, and events are conducted there through March. The schedule then takes the performers to various spots in the Southwest and West before winding up in Washington state and Oregon.
Driggers said rodeo events in Georgia often do not attract top competitors because the cash purse usually is not large enough for them to travel here.
The team roping event features two cowboys roping a calf, often in fewer than five seconds after the calf comes out of a chute. Driggers is a header and is tasked with roping the cow's head and turning it to the left. His partner, the heeler, then ropes both of the cow's back feet.
As with most rodeo events, the competition is rooted in skills used by cowboys in the Wild West. These particular skills were utilized when cowboys needed to doctor a sick cow.
They would rope both the cow's head and his rear feet so they could stretch the cow out on the ground and provide whatever care was needed.
Driggers said a time of four to five seconds often will win individual events, but a faster time likely will be needed to win the nationals, where the record is 3.3 seconds.
In addition to team roping, the rodeo will crown champions in bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, women's barrel racing and bull riding.
Driggers and Corkill will compete in 10 individual rounds, which will pay the winner $18,257. Their total scores will be added together for average placings. First place in his category will pay $48,820 plus a saddle as WNFR champion.
Driggers, of course, is hoping to add to his financial rewards, but the most important prize is a gold buckle that is given to world champions.