Nixa senior Gavin Michel earned a college scholarship eight seconds at a time.
He was a sophomore in high school when he connected bull riding to the pursuit of a college degree.
“I thought hey, if they’re going to pay for my school, I might as well climb on,” Michel recounted.
Michel signed a letter of intent to accept a college rodeo scholarship Wednesday at a ceremony at Nixa High School. How serious was the event? Serious enough that the head coach of the Texas A&M-Commerce Lions traveled about 400 miles to attend the ceremony in person.
Texas A&M-Commerce rodeo coach Dameon White is happy to have landed the commitment of the No. 1-ranked bull rider in the Missouri High School Rodeo standings. Michel is a two-time qualifier for the National High School Finals Rodeo, held annually in Gillette, Wyoming.
“I am proud to have Gavin on my team. As a university coach, we do not pick very many bull riders, and Gavin is a bull rider,” White said.
College rodeo participants can compete in an array of events such as team roping, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling and tie down roping, but the bull riders stand out as specialists, a different breed of cowboy. Competitors from the same school combine their points earned in each rodeo for an overall team score used to compare them to teams from other colleges.
Scholarships are limited on college rodeo teams, White explained. He usually favors riders who have two years of experience competing for junior college teams.
“I usually pick transfer students,” White said. “He don’t need to go to a juco, he can step right in to the university level and compete, and hopefully you all will be hearing that he makes the college national finals this time next year.”
Michel got his start in rodeo as a tyke, and it wasn’t on the back of a bull.
“I started riding sheep. I was a mutton buster whenever I was 4 years old, and I progressively moved up from sheep, to calves, to steers and eventually bulls,” Michel said.
Michel was 14 the first time he climbed on the back of a bull. Rodeo bulls weigh more than 2,000 pounds.
“It was crazy, just the rush. Whenever you are climbing on a bull, it’s a 2,000-pound animal. It just wakes you up,” Michel said.
Michel was a sixth-grader when he learned another event, team roping, with a friend named Landon Potts. Michel continued climbing the ladder toward bull riding but roped calves with Potts along the way. On Nov. 26, 2014, Potts was one of four teenagers killed in a single-vehicle accident on Pleasant View Road in Christian County. Potts was 17.
Michel continues to practice team roping, though bull riding is still his primary event. He hopes to have a chance at competing in roping before his college career concludes. While most freshmen bring computers, televisions and small refrigerators into the dorms, Michel’s list of school supplies includes a horse that he will take from Nixa to Commerce, Texas.
Injuries have been part of Michel’s rodeo career, as is the case for most competitive cowboys. His list of injuries includes a broken ankle and a broken left wrist, the wrist attached to the hand Michel uses to hold onto the bull rope as he attempts to stay aboard for eight seconds.
The thrill of competition kept him coming back.
“For a while I was stuck in a rut when I was 15, where I would get to about six seconds on a bull and I would be like, ‘Oh man, I’m on a bull,’ and I would jump off. It would scare me,” Michel said. “I’m past it now and I love it, I just crave it.”
Michel said he plans to major in Agricultural Sciences, using what A&M-Commerce calls the “broadfield option,” a mixture of 11 different degree programs.
“Not many places offer that many (programs), so Ag-Broadfield basically covers everything from zoology, to plants to ranch management. It’s all-in-one,” Michel said.
As White explained, Michel will ride bulls against cowboys from NCAA Division I schools such as Texas, TCU, Texas A&M, Sam Houston State and McNeese State in the Southern Division of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association.
“It’s just like football, basketball, baseball, volleyball — you get a scholarship, you come and you compete in an event of the sport of rodeo,” White said.