In three decades on the professional circuit, Clay O’Brien Cooper has seen a lot of rodeos.

And though it’s no where near the biggest or features the largest purse, the seven-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association national champion has a special place in his heart for Rodeo Killeen.

“Killeen has always been a good little rodeo,” said Cooper, 50, of Morgan Mill. “As much as we travel, getting to go to a good little rodeo that’s close to home is really good.”

Coming back this year might just pay off for Cooper and his fellow veteran roper David Key of Caldwell, who blew away the competition with top time of 4.3 seconds in team roping to lead Thursday evening on the first day of the 64th annual Rodeo Killeen at the Killeen Rodeo Grounds.

Taking advantage of a slow steer, Key locked up the head quickly and straightened it enough for Cooper to time the kick just right and rope the heels more than a second faster than the second-best time.

“When you get a good start, that sets up a good run, so when I got a good start, I was able to reach and stick it on him pretty fast and Clay just read it good and cleaned it up, and it wound up being pretty fast,” said Key, 44.

While the professionals flexed their muscles, a couple of local competitors got their own chance to shine as Keith Archer of Salado and Keith Stermer of Belton teamed up to win their first-ever County Team Roping title with a short go time of 4.6 seconds to finish with a total time of 27.13 after coming in with the third-best time through the first three events.

“It’s about time I get to win the Killeen one — I’ve been here a million times and I ain’t won nothing yet,” Archer said.

“We just tried to use our heads a little more and tried to stay smooth,” said Stermer, who has finished second in the Killeen event each of the last two years. “We just let them take themselves out and tried to stay hooked.”

In the main event of the evening, LJ Jenkins of Porum, Okla. was one of five bull riders to stay on for the full eight seconds, leading after the first day with an official score of 88. Jenkins is rated the fifth-best in the world in the PRCA and was crowned the 2006 Professional Bull Riding World Champion.

College Station-based brothers Sterling and Jacobs Crawling took the top two spots in the saddle bronc riding event, scoring an 84 and 80, respectively. Jacobs, 22, rides collegiality at Texas A&M, while Sterling, 19, is at Hill College, with both competing in the College National Finals in June.

“My horse (Marie Lavoe) was really good, no one really knew anything about her, but with her being as nice as she was, she really just let me do the technique and stick to the fundamentals,” Sterling said.

Logan Gledhill of Huntsville beat out Brian Bauerle of Austin by 0.1 seconds for the first-day lead in steer wrestling with a time of 4.5 seconds.

Chris Harris of Itasca leads in bareback riding with an 88, 12 points ahead of the next-best competitor, while Jud Nowotny of La Vernia led tie down roping with a 9.4.

In the barrel racing, Ashley Leifeste of Willow City leads with a time of 18.17 seconds.


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