GATESVILLE — Last year Sterling Crawley competed under the bright lights of Las Vegas at the PRCA Championship.

He finished 14th overall – so it’s pretty safe to say that he’s seen some big time rodeos.

Crawley, though, still loves the feeling that small-town rodeos offer.

Plus, unlike the bigger rodeos he competes at the 76th annual Gatesville Rodeo offers a chance to relax.

Crawley gave his cheering section a reason to be ecstatic as the Stephenville native scored an 85 in saddle bronc to lead after the first day.

“Those big rodeos are fun but I tell you, these small-town rodeos can be as tough as any big-time one,” said Crawley. “Plus I get to see some friends that I haven’t seen in a while — and my fiancé gets to meet them too, finally.”

Though he currently resides with his fiancé in Huntsville, Crawley hasn’t forgotten his roots — in fact he embraces them whole-heartedly.

Growing up a Stephenville cowboy comes with some serious rodeo responsibility and the 14th-ranked Crawley full expects to carry that burden in Las Vegas.

The competitive cowboy knows that just getting to Vegas is not enough.

“I do feel like I’ve lived up to the Stephenville name, but I (am not) satisfied – I want to win the pro championship this year,” Crawley said. “I didn’t do as well in Las Vegas last year as I thought I could have and that left a bad taste in mouth.”

The 2011 tour rookie of the year doesn’t look past the strong competition that he has come to expect from the Gatesville Rodeo.

“I can’t count my chickens before they hatch because there’s still time left over the next couple of days,” he said. “But I think I rode well tonight but we’ll see after Saturday.”

In other events, Hillsboro’s Jake Brown had a sweet ride on the back of Lollypop, scoring an 81 in bareback riding, while Smithville native Cade Goodman wrestled his steer in 5.4 seconds, edging Georgetown’s Terry Meadows by a tenth of a second. Brown was just one of two bareback contestants to compete on Thursday.

Kayelen Helton, another Stephenville native, leads breakway roping with a time of 2.4 seconds and Cuerro’s Clint Nyeegard has the lead in tie-down roping with a time of 8.55 seconds.

Bull riding and barrel racing weren’t completed by press time and slack was expected to continue until 3 a.m.

The second day of the rodeo begins tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Gatesville rodeo arena.

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