COLLEGE RODEO: Odessa College’s Johnson enters huge weekend with plenty to gain

Odessa College’s Wyatt Johnson has waited for a weekend like this nearly his entire life.

Johnson’s competing in two separate events simultaneously, which isn’t abnormal for rodeo cowboys, but between getting on horses for bareback riding at the 34th annual Odessa College Wrangler Rodeo at Ector County Coliseum and at RFD-TV’s The American in Fort Worth, more eyes will be on him than ever before.

This is the Wranglers’ lone home event of the year that serves as the beginning of the spring slate of rodeos for the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s Southwest Conference. This is a rare opportunity if any of Johnson’s teachers want to see him compete live.

Johnson also is competing in the semifinals at The American with a chance to compete in Sunday’s finals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington with $2 million in prizes on the line.

At The American events, plenty of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s competitors will be taking a shot at the large cash prize, even though the rodeo isn’t under the PRCA banner. The PRCA’s horses and bulls will be on the dirt as well.

“This is probably one of the biggest things I’ve ever had,” Johnson said about competing at The American. “It is on TV, it’ll get my name out there for a lot of pros … the circuit will recognize it.”

This also isn’t the 19-year-old Payson, Utah native’s first time in the spotlight. In high school, Johnson was a state-champion bareback rider from 2014 to 2016. In April 2015, he was named Sports Illustrated’s student athlete of the month.

Thursday night, Johnson was the first Wrangler in any event to take to the dirt. He stayed on his horse for the full eight seconds during his bareback ride, earning 68 points.

“He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve got on the team, that and he’s got the talent and ability to compete on (the professional) level,” Odessa College head coach CJ Aragon said. “A lot of guys have the talent and ability but they don’t have the work ethic to go with it and he has both. That’s a combination that I think is getting rarer and rarer in all sports.”

Although Johnson’s results from the rest of the weekend were not available by press time, the expectations set out for him in the future are pretty clear.

“I don’t want to let it go to his head or anything, but I think here in a few years, he could be one of the guys competing for world titles,” Aragon said.

Johnson doesn’t like to think of himself in that light, but wants to stay focused to accomplish any goal that he has.

“I try not to over think it,” Johnson said. “I know what I’m here for and I know what I need to do. I know what I’ve trained for.

“Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming … I got to be confident in myself.”

All of this attention comes 14 months after Johnson required shoulder surgery. At a December 2016 rodeo in Oklahoma, he dislocated his shoulder.

After a week of healing Johnson competed in another rodeo. In the middle of his ride in that event, his shoulder popped out again. Johnson actually completed that eight-second ride and finished in second overall at the event.

However, he was already at the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a torn labrum and biceps tendon. Those injuries kept him out of rodeos for six months.

“I couldn’t even lift a five-pound weight after the six months,” Johnson said.

Doctors told him not to ride for a year just to be safe, but Johnson got back on horses last June. He said he wasn’t back to 100 percent until November.

Three months later, Johnson is getting a little exposure to what the future could hold.

His constant trips from Odessa to the Metroplex and back are a part of the basic lifestyle for a rodeo cowboy. Johnson dreams of doing that full time and that reality could be a tiny bit closer with success this weekend.

{{tncms-inline account=”EricBlumOA” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">COLLEGE RODEO: Odessa College's Wyatt Johnson scores a 68 on this bareback ride. <a href=""></a></p>— Eric Blum (@EricBlumOA) <a href="">February 23, 2018</a></blockquote>” id=”966885096182595584″ type=”twitter”}}