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March 8, 2014

Sam Houston State cowboys, alumni hope for ‘big bucks’ at RodeoHouston

HUNTSVILLE — Country music legend Waylon Jennings may have gotten it wrong. Sometimes it’s great to let babies grow up to be cowboys, especially if one is a parent of the cowboy and cowgirl talent at Sam Houston State University.

For the next few weeks, the spotlight will be on bareback riders Taylor Price and Bill Tutor, bull rider Trey Benton III and tie-down roper Caleb Smidt, all students or recent graduates of Sam Houston State’s rodeo team who are competing at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

All are members of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. Although RodeoHouston is no longer a PRCA-sanctioned rodeo, it is world-renowned, and these four cowboys hope to take home part of the bounty offered there.

Price, who attended his first rider orientation last Tuesday at Reliant Park, said he is excited to compete in Houston.

“It is one of the richest rodeos in the world,” Price said. “I’m just excited to be here.”

Price, a Huntsville native, is ranked among the top 25 bareback riders in the world by the PRCA. He is a 21-year-old criminal justice major at SHSU who is set to graduate this spring.

He first got into the rodeo game while a sophomore in high school.

“I had a girlfriend and her brothers rode bulls. They said they were going to beat me up if I didn’t get on a bull,” said Price, adding that he rode bulls for four years before concentrating on bareback riding.

Benton III, 22, an agriculture engineering student, started riding calves at the age of 8, then moved onto bull riding where he has had much success.

Benton, who was a standout on the SHSU rodeo team, leading the team to the national finals in 2011, turned pro that same year. He finished fifth in the Texas Circuit Finals his rookie year and 10th in the all-American finals. He currently ranks third in the PRCA world standings and is third in the Xtreme Bull standings.

Benton is coming off what might have been a career-ending injury last year, thanks to a bull in Washington.

“I actually rode him (the bull) in the shootout round and when I came off, he flipped on me and snapped my leg in half,” Benton said. “It still hurts to this day.”

After a four-hour surgery following the incident, Benton rode in the national rodeo finals in December before having another surgery to have a metal rod inserted into his leg.

Benton, like most rodeo cowboys, takes his injury in stride.

“I never get real nervous getting on a bull,” he said. “I’ve always been calm. It’s just something that relaxes me, I guess. I’m pretty loose and cool; it’s not too much of a big deal.”

Smidt, a 2013 SHSU graduate with a degree in ag business, is a calf roper who will compete in his first Houston rope tie-down event. He is ranked second in the U.S. in the PRCA world standings and second in the Wranglers Million Dollar Tour Standings. During his rookie year in the pros, Smidt earned $81,824 and the PRCA selected him “Resistol All-Around Rookie of the Year.”

Smidt, who lives with his wife, former PRCA barrel racer Brenna Byler, in Bay City, began roping “as soon as I could walk and ride a horse. I remember riding a little pony.”

Although he has earned $130,000 since turning pro, he said college rodeos are hard to win.

“Sometimes the calves and steers aren’t as good as you’d want them to be,” Smidt said. “There are only 10 schools in our region, and they each have a rodeo. They just take the top three to the college finals. As a pro, we have 75 rodeos to go to, so you can win more at 75 rodeos. With only 10 rodeos, you have to make sure you do good to make the college finals.”

Tutor was the last SHSU cowboy invited to RodeoHouston after his bareback win in San Angelo on March 2. No one is more excited to be there, he said.

“I always wanted to compete in Houston,” Tutor said. “It is one of the riches rodeos in the world.”

Tutor came from a rodeo family.

“My dad got me into it. He roped when I was growing up,” Tutor said. “He just kind of pushed me into it. He rode some bareback horses when he was young. He was the one who talked me into getting on some bucking horses.”

The four Houston competitors have been honing their skills since they were youngsters; Price was the only cowboy to get into his sport while in high school.

They all say they love the sport and work hard to show off their talent.

“I take it as serious as a job, but I love it,” Tutor said. “It’s not work to me; it is something I love to do, but I take it just as seriously as anybody would with a job. Like they say, if you love what you’re doing, you never work a day in your life.”

Head rodeo coach Edward “Bubba” Miller said he’s excited to see how his cowboys do at RodeoHouston.

Miller has been the rodeo coach at SHSU for six years, after having a successful 10-year career on the professional circuit. He knows the rigors of the sport because he did it himself.

SHSU’s rodeo team has 87 students, 40 percent of whom are women.

“Girls in college rodeo can compete in barrel racing, breakaway calf roping and goat tying,” Miller said. “In that event, a goat is staked out at the far end of the arena. They ride their horses to within 10 feet of the goat, dismount and hog-tie the goat. This normally takes between six and seven seconds. I don’t know about you, but I can’t tie my shoes between six and seven seconds.”

While rodeo is widely known for its element of danger, Miller said one of the biggest changes he has seen in the competition is improvements in safety.

“I really believe anyone will tell you that the rodeo athlete is a lot safer with the use of the helmet as well as with the protective vest,” he said.

“Trey Benton had a bull rearrange his face mask on his helmet. The bull did crush his eye socket, and he had to have facial reconstructive surgery last January. Without that helmet, Trey probably would have been killed. I believe the helmets and the vests have saved many a rodeo athlete’s life.”

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