& Free Trip to Margaritaville
A native of Madisonville, Texas, Lovell was crowned the 2020 World Champion Team Roping Header this past December in Arlington, Texas after an exhilarating ten rounds of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR). His roping partner Paul Eaves was crowned the 2020 World Champion Heeler.
The 2020 NFR did not start out as an easy go for Lovell and Eaves, but in true Lovell fashion, they pushed through. During the first six rounds of the NFR, the odds of winning their first world title were not in their favor. They only had four recorded times and were not even a contender in the NFR average. The world champion title takes into account a contestant’s Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) season earnings coming into the NFR, which is combined with their average earnings from the 10-day NFR, for a total year-end earnings and chance at being crowned a world champion.
“It had been up and down at the Finals,” says Lovell. “I knew we had to win those last three rounds to even have a chance to win the world.”
By round seven, their luck began to change, and Lovell and Eaves had won $46,384.62 each and were looking to win more rounds – no matter what. In round eight, they came back with a 4.3 second run worth $26,230.77 each. Then in round 9, they won another $23,480.77 each.
In his push to be the best and win the world, Lovell drove home to Madisonville after that ninth round and put pencil to paper. “I drove home that night, and my son Levi and I did the pencil work. I watched video of every steer and how the rounds unraveled, so I knew what had to be done for us to have a chance,” explained Lovell.
His diligence paid off as Lovell and Eaves backed into the box that final night. As the tenth-round steer left the chute, the magic happened, and dreams became reality. Lovell and Eaves swung, caught clean, and cinched their world titles with a 4.4 second run. “It was a Cinderella story that unraveled in front of me, and I got to be a part of it,” said Lovell. “It was a relief that I had succeeded in reaching a dream I had my whole life, and the hard work and 20 years of me putting into it was worth it. It’s something someone can’t ever take away from you.”
When asked if he had taken a different approach in 2020, the then six-time Wrangler NFR qualifier said he credits part of his success to a higher maturity level. “My maturity level was way different. I went in knowing I had a job to do, and I did not take opportunities or chances I had for granted,” said Lovell. “A lot goes into a year of rodeoing, and when the NFR comes around, exhaustion can set in. I just had a different mindset. My mental game was way different than last time.”
Lovell also acknowledges his great partnership with Eaves. “We both stayed calm and have a lot of confidence in each other,” explained Lovell.
Then there’s his horse Bartender. Lovell describes Bartender, a Roan gelding, as a tough, fast horse with a lot of run! “I had Bartender, and I thought he was the best chance for me to win the world as far as my rodeo career,” said Lovell. “He loves to chase the cows and try to outrun a steer.”
While Bartender is still his main go-to, Lovell has added a new addition to the team. Known as “Whiskey,” which he rode most of the July 4th weekend, Lovell bought him from his good friend Ty Arnold in Madisonville. “He’s also a real good horse. He tries hard and scores really good,” explained Lovell.
Once the dust and fanfare settled from winning that coveted gold buckle at the NFR, Lovell said he was glad to be home and spend time with those he cares about most – his family. “They’re the reason I wake up every morning – to support them and do the best I can for them,” explains Lovell.
When talking to Lovell, the pride and love he has for his family is apparent. This includes his wife Kassidy, their 16-year-old son Levi, and 7-year-old daughter Jewel. Following in her daddy’s footsteps it seems, Jewel seems to have gotten the rodeo bug at an early age. “My daughter is ate up with it,” says Lovell. “She rides good and has started competing in barrel races on my wife’s old barrel horse.”
In July, Jewel competed in a 1D open barrel race and ended up taking first place. During the NFRs, Lovell said Jewel could often be found heeling for him during morning practices. Back at the ranch, Jewel can be found helping work cows or anything else that needs to be done on the ranch. “The sky is the limit with her,” Lovell confidently says. He even proudly notes her emerging roping talent.
Lovell looks forward to a future that includes seeing his daughter reach her dreams and being there to support her. “I still want to win the world again, I still want to go…but, in a way, I feel I have succeeded at my goal,” said Lovell. “My little girl wants to go and do, and she has a chance to be great. If I’m trying to be great, it’s hard to help her be great.”
Thankfully, Lovell has his wife Kassidy, a native of Bryan, Texas, to take care of the kids and ranch when he’s on the road. “She takes care of everything,” says Lovell. “She’s the foundation of our family.” Kassidy is also no stranger to the world of rodeo. “We were both in high school rodeo, and she used to barrel race, but had to stop because her horse got hurt,” said Lovell. “Now, she’s getting back into it and pursuing team roping possibilities.”
Rodeo, roping, and horses have been a part of Lovell’s life for as long as he can remember–from the early days of youth and high school rodeo to winning seven USTRC open rodeos at age 18. His father roped Lovell’s entire life, and his mother rode cutting and barrel horses.
While a lot of time is spent with his daughter in the arena, Lovell and his son bond over hunting. “Levi doesn’t have that many years left at the house,” said Lovell. “We enjoy going hunting near the Trinity River.”
Along with his family having a strong hold on Lovell, close friends also rank high on his list. One of his closest friends and hunting buddies is singer/songwriter Cody Johnson. A native of Groveton, Texas, Lovell and Johnson had crossed paths competing in high school rodeo, but had never really bonded as they have in recent years.
“We’ve been acquaintances my whole life and knew of each other through rodeo,” explained Lovell. “When he started roping, we started practicing together at the house, and our friendship just progressed. We have similarities, the same beliefs, and are kind of the same type of people.”
Johnson ended up moving about ten minutes down the road from Lovell, and when they are both home, they can be found roping together and with friends, three to four times a week. “Our wives get along, my girl and his girl are the same age and play together,” says Lovell. “It just works.”
While both Lovell and Johnson have become superstars in their respected arenas and have been in the spotlight for the last year, Lovell says he enjoys going back home to just hang with Johnson and get away from all the chaos. “Honestly, we both get an ‘out route’ when we get to hang out with each other,” explains Lovell.
For Lovell, it’s not about the wins and the starstruck fans in the arena at home, but rather just two old smalltown friends swapping stories, enjoying family, and throwing a rope.
Not only does Lovell enjoy hanging out and roping with his dear friend, but Johnson’s popular song Dear Rodeo has also served as an inspiration to him and to everyone who rodeos. “It is the perfect meaning to what a rodeo cowboy is and stands for,” said Lovell.
Before round 10 of the NFR, Johnson played Dear Rodeo at Globe Life Field in Arlington as many cowboys and cowgirls listened. For Lovell, the song brought back memories and old feelings of not wanting to miss the opportunity of winning that coveted gold buckle.
“I’ve been close to winning the world before and just didn’t finish the job,” recalls Lovell. “The song reminds you of the hard work that goes into getting to your final destination, and it pushes you to keep persevering and dreaming.”
Written by Dan Couch and Johnson, who is a former bull rider, the ballad draws on the pull of the American sport of rodeo.
When talking with Lovell about his deep bonds with family and friends, there is another individual who has impacted his life. When Lovell and then 15-year-old Cody NesSmith first met briefly at the USTRC Finals in Oklahoma City, the story that would unfold is one nobody imagined.
NesSmith, like Lovell, was an avid team roper from Louisiana and had a passion for the sport. He was a huge fan of Lovell and became an intricate part of Lovell’s life before losing his battle with a rare bone cancer in July 2020.
“When he wasn’t doing chemo, he would stay at Ty Arnold’s, come over here every day and rope, help out around the ranch, and spend time with us.” Soon, the two formed a lasting friendship and spent many hours together roping, hunting, and laughing at Lovell’s ranch. “He got over here, and it just clicked,” says Lovell. “He was a good person. He was very humble and never acted like there was an exclamation point on his life. I mean, he just lived life to the fullest.”
NesSmith repeatedly told Lovell he would win the world team roping title in 2020 and became one of Lovell’s biggest supporters and motivators. “It was a goal he had for me that he told me at the beginning of the year, and it was just something we had a lot of conversations about,” explained Lovell.
One of the characteristics Lovell admired was his fight. “You never knew he had cancer. He never looked for a way out – he just took it with a grain of salt,” said Lovell. “His will and everyday attitude was inspiring.”
NesSmith’s final wish was to have a team roping benefit to raise money to help others going through cancer. So Lovell, being dedicated to friends and family like he is, made the roping happen in May 2021 at the Leon County Expo Center in Buffalo, Texas. Proceeds from the event have launched the Cody NesSmith Foundation to help families whose children are battling cancer. With 137 teams entered in the open, the roping raised nearly $60,000 for the Foundation.
When not on the road and pushing himself to be the best team roper, or spending time with his kids to be the best dad he can, Lovell turns to his other love – his hunting and cow dogs. He currently has about a dozen cur dogs, many of which he’s raised and trained himself. “I love watching them grow and develop from pups,” said Lovell.
So, what makes a good hunting dog? Well, according to Lovell, it takes a special dog – just like roping takes a great horse. “It really depends on what your standards are for the dogs,” explained Lovell. “My standards are really, really high. A good hunting dog will work by himself, always tries for you, and doesn’t need anyone else.”
As far as the 2021 world title, Lovell and Eaves are back on the road this summer, pushing to be the best they can, with their eye on the prize – a second gold buckle. “I enjoy the competition part, trying to work my craft and prove to myself that I’m still good enough to be on top,” said Lovell.
While Lovell continues to push forward and follow his dreams, make no mistake–the real prize for him is back home in Madisonville, on his third-generation ranch started by his grandfather (and role model). “I love rodeos, hearing the roar of the crowd, making good runs, and experiencing the competition part, but I also love to just be at the ranch with my family.”