Will Centoni was ready for the bright lights of the newly transformed Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Friday night.
Centoni, the top all-around cowboy for the Cuesta Rodeo Team, blew away other top riders in the region in the one-shot bull riding event with an 8-plus-second ride and a score of 83.00. Centoni added another golden buckle to his belt with the win in the inaugural event, part of a 10-event showcase on the opening night of the 78th annual Poly Royal Rodeo, the largest college rodeo in the country, the first of two days of rodeo action on the Cal Poly campus.
Other top male and female riders competed in events, including bareback riding, barrel racing and team roping.
It was business as usual for Centoni, Cuesta rodeo team coach Clint Pearce said.
“That ride is just about the same ride he makes every time because he’s that consistent,” Pearce said. “Will is a first-class athlete. He could go into any sport and be at the top.”
Cuesta College entered Friday night’s event as the second-ranked men’s team in the NIRA West Coast Region, three spots ahead of the men’s team from Cal Poly in large part due to Centoni. The Hollister native entered the week second place in the NIRA men’s all-around, first in saddle bronc riding, third in team roping header and first in bull riding.
Cuesta is also ranked No. 13 in the nation.
Centoni said he broke his collarbone and ribs during a professional bull riding event last year and had to skip the bull-riding event for a few months at the start of the season, but he was back in top form Friday night.
“It felt good,” Centoni said, "especially since I was the only one to ride (the full 8 seconds). It means a lot.”
The ride drew a big cheer from the crowd on hand, which filled about half of the stadium (official attendance numbers were not available at the time of publishing).
“We didn’t sell out, but we had a lot of good energy,” said Cal Poly coach Ben Londo, who organized the event and is the driving force behind moving the rodeo to the football stadium for the second consecutive year. “I think it was a good start.”
Unlike Friday’s showcase, which was held under clear skies after last year's opening night was rained out, Saturday’s action was set to feature the final round of competition with major implications in West Coast Region Standings — something Londo said will ratchet up the pressure.
“Fans can expect a little more energy,” Londo said, adding Saturday’s event will also feature a concert by country artist Aaron Watson. “Plus, now these kids have had a look at the stadium; they know what to expect.”
Centoni was scheduled to compete in the saddle bronc, calf-roping and bull-riding events with the hopes of taking home the all-around win and keeping Cuesta in the run for a regional title.
The festivities were scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. Unlike last year, there’s no rain in the forecast.