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Utah bull rider back after horrific injury

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Tag Elliott, of Thatcher, Utah is injured after  getting bucked off Werewolf  during the bull riding at the Days of 47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City, Utah, July 24, 2007.

Tag Elliott, of Thatcher, Utah is injured after getting bucked off Werewolf during the bull riding at the Days of 47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City, Utah, July 24, 2007.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — When Tag Elliott's name was announced, there was no hype, no fuss, no fanfare.

The Thatcher man climbed on his bull, Foul Play, and then just like every other bull rider except one in Friday's Days of '47 Rodeo, he was thrown to the ground before the eight-second whistle sounded.

And while it didn't feel much like a milestone, it certainly was.

Not only was it his birthday, it was the 23-year-old's first ride in the Days of '47 Rodeo since a 2007 accident broke most of the bones in the right side of his face and jaw.

Elliott was just 19 and in his second year of pro rodeo competition when his face collided with the horn of a three-time National Finals bull, Werewolf, in the second-to-last performance of the Days of '47 Rodeo four years ago. The Bear River High graduate was knocked unconscious and two bull fighters distracted the bull, while another straddled Elliott. Quickly other men ran into the arena to form a human wall between the critically injured Elliott and Werewolf.

It was a shocking sight — the collision, Elliott's limp body falling under the feet of the massive bull and the efforts of the bull fighters to keep Werewolf away from him while rescue personnel rushed to his aid.

To this day, Elliott has no memory of any of it.

"I remember pulling in the night before," said Elliott. "I remember bits and pieces of that day, walking in and paying my fees, but I don't remember getting hurt. They said I woke up, but I don't remember it."

In fact, his memory doesn't get clear until three or four days into his hospital stay. When he woke up, his father told him that a bull had knocked out some of his teeth.

"They knew it was a big deal, but he just likes to tease me," said Elliott with a smile.

As for returning to bull riding, that was really never in doubt. He said his parents made it clear that they were behind him no matter what he decided to do.

"I didn't really talk about it," he said with a shrug. "I didn't know how long it was going to be, or what it would take to get back. But I wanted to ride again."

What it would take was much more than Elliott imagined.

A year of surgeries, including taking bone from his ribs and reconstructing his face, were tough enough. But then there was a complication that no one anticipated, and at first, didn't catch.

"The doctors didn't know anything was wrong," he said of the reconstruction that attempted to rebuild an eye socket, sinuses, cheek bone and jaw. "They didn't realize it wasn't getting blood. Everything just kind of hurt."

Doctors didn't figure it out until his tissue started to die. Then he endured more medicine and procedures to finally get healthy enough to reclaim his life's passion.

"They didn't understand at first," he said of discussing his return to bull riding with his doctors. "They thought it was a recreational thing. But they understand it now. And they were really good about it."

Last year he started riding bulls again, and he said the down time only made him miss it more.

"I was always nervous," he said of the dangerous sport. "It gets your motor running."

When asked if he's ever competed in any of the other events, he says without smiling, "I wasn't tough enough to ride bareback."

The accident hasn't slowed him, although he now wears a helmet. Like every other cowboy, he's trying to hit as many rodeos as possible this summer in hopes of making enough money to earn a living.

"It's pretty exciting," he said. "It's just fun. It feels good (to be back). You appreciate everything a little bit more. You take time to enjoy and appreciate things."

The only cowboy to earn a score in bull riding Friday night was Dalton Dumas, Lehi, who scored 79 points.

Other results:

Saddle bronc riding: 1. Casey Hoffman, Lone Tree, Wyoming, 79 points; 2. (tie) Cole Elshere, Faith, South Dakota, and JJ Elshere, Hereford, South Dakota, 77 points.

Steer Wrestling: 1. Brad Johnson, Reva, South Dakota, 3.5 seconds; 2. Jacob Talloy, Keatchie, Louisiana, 4.4 seconds; 3. Lex Smith, Malad, Idaho, 4.7 seconds.

Tie Down Roping: 1. Justin Scofield, St. Lawrence, South Dakota, 8 seconds; 2. Lex Smith, Malad, Idaho, 8.1 seconds; 3. Ace Slone, Cuero, Texas, 8.4 seconds.

Bareback riding: 1. Caleb Bennett, Morgan, Utah, 84 points.

Team Roping: 1. Brock Hanson and Ryan Motes, 4.2 seconds; 2. Ty Blasingame and Cody Hintz, 14.3 seconds.

Utah in second place

GILLETE, Wyo. — Heading into the final day of the National High School Rodeo Finals, Utah is sitting in second place, 625 points behind Texas. Third place Oklahoma is more than 2,000 points behind. Utah trails Texas by 60 points in the boys competition, while the cowgirls are in third place.

Friday morning scores:

Team Roping: 5. Chet Boren, Vernal; Dixon Winn, Nephi, 12.61. Goat Tying: 4. Whittney Dansie, Herriman, 9.51; 8. Korinne Balls, Hyde Park, 10.79. Boys Cutting: 2. Dustin Pace, Provo, 210. Barrel Racing: 26. Kelsie Keller, Fairview, 22.521. Girls Cutting: 1. Paige Hadlock, Ogden, 218

email: adonaldson@desnews.com