Considering he stands 6 feet 3 inches and weighs 245 pounds, Gabe Ledoux seemingly would have made a prototypical linebacker prospect in his formative years.
He was a big kid, too.
But the 28-year-old didn’t play football in high school or college.
“Never played a down,” he said. “I just rodeoed.”
It was the same for Luke Branquinho (6-0, 235 pounds).
“Football practice got in the way of my rodeo schedule and the (high school) coach wouldn’t let me miss any practices so I never went out,” Branquinho said.
Ledoux, a native of Kaplan, La., hasn’t regretted his choice of sports for one second. Neither has Branquinho, who grew up in Santa Maria, Calif.
It’s hard to argue with either man’s decision.
Ledoux survived a rough night of steer wrestling Friday to win his first all-out National Finals Rodeo go-round by turfing his steer in 3.5 seconds to win $16,766 before 17,319 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Branquinho, winner of Thursday’s first round, finished well behind Ledoux in sixth place, but is ranked first in his quest for a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world championship to match the one he won in 2004.
City slickers and others unfamiliar with rodeo history and the passion many have for the sport probably can’t understand how big, strapping lads could turn their backs on football to compete in youth rodeos.
“Growing up a cowboy was a way of life,” said Branquinho, who has won $1 million over the past eight years. “Rodeo is the all-American sport. It got started way before those other sports.”
That claim rings louder during the 50th anniversary of the NFR in a sport that has been crowning world champions since 1929 with roots dating to the late 1800s.
Chasing 800-pound steers with horns is only partly similar to trying to tackle 230-pound running backs, who don’t have horns. Also, linebackers don’t have to slide off a racing horse to make a tackle, and bulldoggers don’t wear helmets or shoulder pads.
It looked like several of Friday’s steers were gunning for votes in college football’s Heisman Trophy balloting.
“(My steer) wasn’t really that tricky,” Ledoux said. “I had a good steer and got a decent start. Everything went my way.
“But this was a tough pen. They were a little different; some of them ran, and some of them stopped.”
Ledoux, ranked ninth in world standings, was the fourth man out and had to stand nearby to see if any of the next 11 contestants would beat his time.
Fortunately for Ledoux, none did, and two of his top challengers — No. 2 Wade Sumpter and No. 5 Cash Myers — missed their steers and failed to record a time. Two others also had “no times.”
It got worse for Sumpter, who began the Finals as the money leader with a record $133,685. The resident of Fowler, Colo., tore his right pectoral muscle while trying to pin his steer and finished out of the money for the second straight night.
Dr. Tandy Freeman of Justin Sportsmedicine said Sumpter plans to compete tonight, but Freeman said the injury would affect Sumpter’s ability to land his steer.
Sumpter remains second in money earned, but is likely out of the race for the NFR event title that will pay a $43,000 bonus.
Incidentally, had the injury happened to an NFL player, he would be out for several games if not the season.
He would also have a guaranteed contract and continue to draw a paycheck, unlike rodeo athletes who don’t get paid if they don’t play … and play well at that.
Reporter Jeff Wolf can be reached at email@example.com. or (702) 383-0247.NFR MOMENTS IN HISTORY
Members of the rodeo community have helped select the 10 most memorable events of the past 49 National Finals Rodeos.
The countdown to No. 1 continues today.
No. 8 — 1972 Oklahoma City
Phil Lyne of George West, Texas, and Ace Berry of Modesto, Calif., won NFR event titles from each end of Jim Norick Arena in Oklahoma City; Lyne in calf roping and bull riding, Berry in bareback riding and team roping.
For more details on the 1972 NFR, go to lvrj.com/rodeo.