ROPING’S IN HIS BLOOD

Fruita's Garrett Tonozzi making living on rodeo circuit

Fruita’s Garrett Tonozzi, right, and roping partner Dugan Kelley team up at the George Strait Team Roping Classic. The duo took first place. Tonozzi also teamed up with York Gill on a second-place finish at what is widely considered one of the most prestigious team roping events in the nation.



Fruita’s Garrett Tonozzi competes at the George Strait Team Roping Classic in San Antonio.



Fruita’s Garrett Tonozzi, left, poses with roping partner York Gill, right, and George Strait at the George Strait Team Roping Classic in San Antonio.



He learned the ropes from his uncle and grandfather, and now he’s one of the best ropers around.

Fruita’s Garrett Tonozzi, a veteran on the professional rodeo circuit at 28 years old, has a number of impressive bullet points adorning his résumé. He qualified for the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in 2006 and 2008 and, in general, has performed well enough to make a good living doing something he loves.

He took it to another level earlier this month, claiming both first and second place at the George Strait Team Roping Classic.

And he won more than pride and fame at an event Tonozzi said is “probably the most prestigious event of the year for team roping.” He took home $183,000 in prize money, a Chevrolet dually pickup, a horse trailer from Bruton Trailers and some other goodies. According to an event news release, the cash haul set an event record for most money awarded.

Not a bad payout for a weekend’s work.

“It’s the coolest thing,” said Tonozzi, who spends a large portion of his year traveling the country to compete. “It’s a pretty big accomplishment.”

Tonozzi, a header, took first place with one of his regular roping partners, Dugan Kelly. His silver finish came alongside York Gill, with whom Tonozzi also often competes.

A family tradition

Well before Kelly and Gill came along, Tonozzi’s primary roping partners were his uncle, Bret, and grandfather, Tony.

“My uncle and grandpa got me into it,” said Tonozzi, who honed his skills at his grandpa’s indoor arena. “I was just kind of raised doing it my whole life. My uncle actually went to NFR nine times, and he had a very good pro career, and my grandpa was an old-timers rope champion.

“Both roped pretty good. They’re the best coaches you could have.”

Coaches who saw potential in a youngster who wanted only to be just like his uncle and granddad.

“He was probably 10 when we started him out,” said Bret, who maintains an arena in Loma. “We used to let him rope, but we wouldn’t let him dally or anything or turn steers for about a year. It drove him nuts, but we didn’t want him to get hurt.”

Nearly two decades later, Garrett remains dedicated to roping. An unparalleled work ethic is what’s driven him to his present-day success.

“He has always had the dedication,” Bret said. “I knew he was going to make it far.”

“He worked at it pretty good,” said Tony, who was introduced to roping by his dad — Garrett’s great-grandfather — and remains fairly active on the local rodeo scene. “And, you know, whenever you beat that many teams, the Lord has been on your side.”

He’s also had his family on his side.

“I was blessed to have my uncle and my granddad,” said Garrett, a three-time state champ as a youngster. “They made me good at a young age.”

SOUTH FOR THE WINTER

Garrett truly does give everything to his trade. In the winters, he takes up temporary residence in Stephenville, Texas. As winter shifts to spring, it’s off to whatever competition beckons.

“Most of the winter rodeos are down here in Texas,” the 2003 Fruita Monument High School graduate said. “Then it’s out to California for a month in April. … This is all I do. I rope for a living. It’s amazing to get to do what you love and make money at it.”

Garrett lives maybe 10 minutes away from Gill in Stephenville, where the two work constantly to perfect their craft.

“Me and York practice every day together, working on our skills, I guess you could say,” Garrett said. “We’re just trying to get better every day as individuals and as a team.”

It all pays off in the arena, where the camaraderie they’ve built outside of competition has them on the same page.

“We have a great friendship,” Garrett said. “It makes everything a little easier. We travel together and haul together quite a bit.”

And, with both presently ranked in the top 20 in the pro rodeo standings, Tonozzi as a header and Gill a heeler, they succeed together.

If they can move into the top 15 by season’s end, both will be bound for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas this December.

“We have big goals,” Tonozzi said. “Our ultimate goal is to make the National Finals Rodeo and compete for a gold buckle.”


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