When most Tarleton State University seniors don caps and gowns for commencement exercises later this month, Brody Cress will be decked in denim atop 1,200 pounds of sorely vexed horse.

After a banner year, Cress is headed to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as one of the world’s best saddle bronc riders.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s season-ending championship showcases the best cowboys, barrel racers and livestock in the world Dec. 7-16 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Contestants compete daily, with the chance to bring home a lot more than pocket change.

“I’m sitting sixth going in,” Cress said. “The NFR appearance pays $27,000 a night to win a round, so about anything can happen. That’s what I’m staying focused on right now. I don’t want to just make it. I want to go out every round and become the best bronc rider in the world.”

Cress won this year’s National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Southwest Region title and took third in the College National Finals Rodeo.

Competing as a professional during the summer, he snared titles at three of the sport’s most prestigious venues—California Rodeo Salinas, the Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon and his home state’s Cheyenne Frontier Days.

Yet even with such milestone victories, Cress maintains a workaday attitude toward his craft.

“One big part of rodeo is there are so many ups and downs. You have to take it all in stride,” he said.

“What I try to focus on is the process. Doing the best I can every time I get on a bucking horse. It’s the same thing whether it’s in the practice pen, in a college rodeo or on the biggest stage of the world.”

Tarleton rodeo coach Mark Eakin has seen his share of highly motivated collegiate competitors, and he knows Cress is special.

“Brody is one of the most focused and goal-oriented students I have ever coached,” Eakin said. “He is a team leader and a first-class person in and out of the arena.”

An agriculture business major, Cress is scheduled to graduate in December, but he won’t walk the stage, since commencement exercises take place while he’s in Las Vegas. He’ll be back in January to work on a master’s in agricultural and consumer resources.

CBS Sports Network will broadcast each NFR performance, or go to www.nfrexperience.com for live stats.