HEBER CITY — Lex Ju thought he might want to be a football player in high school.

But the influence of his father and one of his dad's best friends lured him to the sport of rodeo.

"I wanted to kind of be like him," said Ju, who leads the bareback competition at the Utah State Rodeo Finals after the first round. "He was the best man at my dad's wedding. My dad high school rodeoed and (Mascaro) fought bulls for him."

Because Mascaro raised bucking horses and kept cowboys safe at rodeos by fighting bulls, Ju said bareback and bulls are his favorite.

Like many rodeo athletes, the sport is in his blood. In addition to having an older brother who competed in bulls and bareback, his father rode bulls for 11 years and bareback for nine years.

"My mom had a little bit of a hard time," he said of his decision to give up traditional high school sports for the club sport of rodeo. "But she said she really couldn't say no because she let my brother do it."

Ju said his father coaches him in both events.

"He's the main reason I do well," Ju said. "He built us two bucking machines to help us get better. He built us roping dummies."

He said he prefers the adrenaline of riding bareback to any other event in the sport.

"I rope because I've done it the longest," he said. "I started off roping. I think I started when i was 3."

The Cedar Fort teen said he hopes to earn a scholarship in rodeo to a Texas high school.

That is, right after he earns a trip to the National High School Finals Rodeo in July.

After one round of competition, there is a three-way tie in saddle bronc riding. Bardy Nicholes, Tyler Baeza and Spencer Wright all scored 70 points in their first ride of the state finals.

In barrel racing Timmi Ward leads; Carlee Dick leads in the breakaway roping competition; Joe Frost has the top bullriding score; Kaeleena Perkins leads in goat tying; Allie Lasalle leads the very competitive pole bending competition; Kade Jacobs leads steer wrestling; Ryan Anderson and Garrison Cannon are leading team roping; and in tie-down roping, Taylor Winn leads the pack.

The second round of rodeo competitions continue in two shows — 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Friday at the Wasatch County Fair Grounds in Heber City. The top 10 finishers overall will compete in the championship round Saturday at 5 p.m.

The top four in each event will form the state's national team.

Utah rodeo athletes hope to claim an eighth national title in July after finishing second last summer.

For complete results go to www.uhsra.org.

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com