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Tyler Turco

Montana's Tyler Turco competes in Go 2 of saddle bronc on Monday at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming. Turco needs a strong score on Thursday night to reach Saturday's short round, where he's hoping to earn the first gold buckle in 10 years for the Grizzlies. 

MISSOULA — You can’t blame Tyler Turco for feeling a little like the Lone Ranger.

He is, after all, the only Montana Grizzly competing at this week’s College National Finals Rodeo. He also represents the Grizzlies' last hope for a championship in any sport for the 2017-18 school year.

Plus there’s that group dynamic he's been missing in Casper, Wyoming.

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Tyler Turco is a junior at University of Montana and currently ranked first in the nation at the college level for saddle bronc riding.

"It feels a little funny being without my team and I'm sure they're wishing they were here," said the junior, who sat atop the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association saddle bronc point standings heading into this week. "But I know a lot of these other guys and girls I've rodeoed with before, so it's not like they're strangers."

Turco is trying to become Montana's first CNFR national champion since Missoula native Dustin Jenkins won bull riding in 2008. Since then it's been slim pickens for UM, with the Grizzlies failing to earn a top-5 finish in coach Kory Mytty's first six seasons at the helm.

If Turco is to end the string, he needs to deliver in Thursday night's third go-round. He finished ninth in the first go-round with a score of 71.5 and 10th in the second on Monday at 69.5. He currently sits in eighth overall.

Tyler's average score for three go-rounds will determine whether he makes the short round Saturday night. Then he'll need another strong performance to win since the champion is crowned based on the average from four rides.

"He just needs to draw a little bit better," Mytty said. "His first two horses were average and he rode them well. Hopefully he'll move up into the top 3 Thursday and then maybe short round he'll draw another good one."

Turco remains optimistic about his chances to earn a gold buckle.

"It's just a matter or getting a good horse in the next couple of rounds and making a good ride," he said. "That can make all the difference.

"I feel like I did all I could on those two horses I drew. I'm still feeling pretty confident. This whole week is just about a few points difference."

Mytty figures Turco is just about due for a good draw.

"You break it down to numbers, 60 percent of the animals you draw, you're going to have a chance to place on," said the coach and long-time member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. "Twenty percent you're going to have a chance to win first, the other 20 percent you won't win anything."

Regardless of what happens the rest of this week, Mytty sees a bright future in rodeo for Turco. He's impressed with his athleticism and fortitude. 

"His mental game is probably as strong as anything," Mytty said. "I like him as a competitor because it's what he wants to do. He wants to win not only a college national championship, he wants to be a world champion.

"He does everything he can to accomplish his goals. He's taking the right steps toward accomplishing them."

Turco, a Colorado native studying parks and recreation management and making his CNFR debut, may find solace in knowing he has another year with the Grizzlies. On the other hand, that's farthest from his mind right now.

"I'm going to try to bring this one home to Montana," he said.

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