COLUMBIA — As a member of the Rock Bridge football team and the Missouri Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit, Shelby Wilson is no stranger to making tackles.
No. 4 Rock Hurst (4-1) at Rock Bridge (4-2)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Rock Bridge High School
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM
Whether it's a 200-pound calf or a 200-pound running back, Wilson knows how to bring them down.
As a safety for the Bruins, he is the last line of defense on the field. Wilson has the second-most solo tackles and leads the team in deflected passes with six.
The position seems a natural fit for Wilson, who has been participating in rodeos since he was 5 years old. He also has experience as a wrestler.
“He has this uncanny balance of being able to clamp onto guys and get them down without throwing himself into their legs and hurting them,” Rock Bridge coach A.J. Ofodile said. “It’s pretty impressive to see. I don’t know if it’s something he does purposefully or if it’s innate, but it’s happened too many times for it to be coincidence.”
Ofodile noted Wilson’s experience taking down cattle is evident when he’s wrapping up ball carriers.
“That kid’s gotta have the strongest grip, pound for pound, of any kid we’ve ever had in the program,” Ofodile said. “When he gets his hands on you, you’re not gonna shake him loose.”
That strong grip comes in handy when Wilson competes in his main rodeo event, calf roping.
In the event, a calf is released from a holding pen and a rider must chase it down, lasso it and tie it up as quickly as possible.
"I have to pick up evenly with both hands and drive my knee into the calf’s ribcage in order to lift the calf off of the ground," Wilson said, describing his actions after he lassos the animal. "And then, using my knee, make it horizontal with the ground, ultimately throwing it on its side."
After thrusting the calf onto the ground and crossing and roping three of its legs (all in about 10 seconds), Wilson lifts both arms above his head to signal that he is finished and stop the timer.
Keeping it in the family
In the arena behind his house, Wilson sits on his chestnut horse Be My Shining Alibi, or Alibi for short. He is wearing a red checkered shirt tucked into a pair of straight-legged blue jeans, secured by a brass oval buckle. With narrow-toed boots on his feet, the iconic western ensemble would be complete if not for the brown baseball cap on his head. He's a third-generation cowboy, and he looks the part.
His grandfather Dale Wilson participated in amateur and professional rodeo circuits and still rides at the age of 89. His father, Dane Wilson, carried on the tradition. He still competes occasionally, though he joked he’s now more of a groomer and driver. His brother Brady Wilson is currently a member of the rodeo team at Missouri Valley College, and his sister Whitley Wilson barrel raced at Vernon College.
Shelby Wilson said being able to participate in a sport with his entire family makes the experience all the more memorable. He recalled a summer when he was 14 years old and his entire family spent 10 consecutive days on the road, touring from rodeo to rodeo.
“That made it pretty special, unlike a football game where your family comes out and they watch you one night a week,” Shelby Wilson said.
It’s not hard to see that Shelby Wilson has had a strong upbringing. In addition to offering up sirs and ma’ams like they were glasses of his mother’s locally-famous extra sweet tea, he repeatedly expressed gratitude to his family for supporting his interests, which also include playing center field on the Rock Bridge baseball team.
"I have wonderful parents,” Shelby Wilson said. “That’s why I’m blessed enough to get to do this. No other kids I know can say they play two 6-A high school sports and participate in rodeo like I do because I have such a stable background.”
The Wilsons' rodeo facilities make practicing much more convenient for the family. Before the Wilsons moved to the outskirts of the city, they would have to drive to Wilson’s grandparents’ house to access their horses. For the past seven years, however, they’ve been able to practice in their own backyard.
And they’re not the only ones. Shelby Wilson said he sees how rodeo appeals to others who have visited his family’s arena, which has become a hotspot of sorts for those curious about the sport.
“A lot of others have picked it up just because it’s right here and it’s kind of interesting,” Shelby Wilson said. “People will start off just coming over and helping with chutes and hanging out. Before too long, their dad is buying them a horse.”
Taking one for the team
With summer and fall occupied by football and spring filled with baseball, Shelby Wilson’s lone opportunity to compete in rodeo is the Missouri Rodeo Cowboys Association summer circuit. Because most high schoolers participate in the fall/spring high school rodeo circuit, Wilson faces cowboys significantly above his age group in the summer circuit.
That’s hardly the only sacrifice he has to make to balance the three activities.
“Really there is no off-season for me because I’m always in a different sport,” Shelby Wilson said. “While others are stressing on one sport, I’m hopping into a new one. You could say it puts me at a disadvantage because I can’t really be really good at one sport, but I can play around in all of them. I really enjoy all of them, so I don’t wanna give any of them up.”
This summer, Shelby Wilson qualified for the year end finals at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. However, after missing about one summer football practice per week for the amateur circuit, he felt obligated to forgo the state finals for two-a-day football practices.
Neither Ofodile nor fellow Bruins safety West Wilson were aware that Shelby Wilson had skipped the rodeo final for football practice, but they weren’t particularly surprised.
“I didn’t have a clue,” Ofodile said. “I would’ve told him to go. If he worked that hard and did all that stuff, I would’ve let him miss a day of practice for that. But that’s the kind of kid he is. He’s a team guy. He didn’t even ask.”
Ofodile said it’s that kind of commitment that led to Shelby Wilson being named a team captain this year. West Wilson agreed.
“That probably shows more about him that he didn’t even tell anyone that he skipped (state finals),” West Wilson said. “And that’s a huge deal. The fact that he didn’t tell anyone is the bigger deal I’d say.”
For Shelby Wilson, it doesn’t seem to be a matter of football taking precedence over rodeo. In fact, he is considering continuing rodeo into college. More than anything, it appears to be a dutiful sense of responsibility to his teammates.
“I wasn’t about to let my entire team down,” Shelby Wilson said. “That’s a pretty big practice to miss for what would be my own selfish wants to participate in the state final. But then on the other side, all the other people I compete with in rodeo, they couldn’t believe I would skip something like that to go to a football practice.”
Shelby Wilson’s life is a constant balancing act between his athletic endeavors. With a level head and the support of his family, friends and coaches, Wilson is managing to juggle it all.
Sitting on the back porch with a dog underfoot and a glass of his mother’s sweet tea in hand, Wilson sums it up with ease.
“You just gotta get your priorities right.”