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Dynamite comes in small packages, big families at Utah high school rodeo championships

HEBER — The last rider of the bareback riding competition Saturday was former state champion, and last year’s runner-up, Wyatt “Wild Man” Johnson. He was in the lead of the event going into the final day of the Utah State High School Rodeo Finals at the Wasatch County Outdoor Arena but needed a good run after some of his fellow competitors had some solid results from their final runs.

After Johnson held on for dear life on a horse named Dakota, the eight-second buzzer rang and his ride was over. The recently graduated senior from Payson had nailed his ride and after dismounting from Dakota to one of the pickup men’s horse and then to the ground, he posed for a Usain Bolt-esque gesture in celebration. He had won state, again, to cap his high school career.

Johnson doesn’t seem like a bareback rider due to his size. At 5-foot-3 and 125 pounds, most rodeo events such as bareback riding might seem like an extra dangerous endeavor, but he doesn’t let that bother him.

“You know they say that dynamite comes in small packages,” Johnson said. “I don’t let it bother me, I figure myself as everybody else, even if I’m the smallest.”

Johnson took state as a sophomore in the bareback riding event, but an injury sidelined him for much of his junior year and he fell just short of repeating as he took second place. In 2016, he carded 10 points on his first ride and eight points on his second in days one and two, respectively. He then capped the rodeo with a score of 85 on Saturday to capture the state title again.

The “Wild Man,” who was the Sports Illustrated High School Athlete of the Month in April 2015, was thrilled to add another state title to his budding professional rodeo career.

“I came in the short go and won it and it feels like I’m on top of the world right now,” Johnson said.

With all the rodeo talent in Utah, Johnson had to share Saturday’s glory with several other champions who are famous in their own right.

One was Milford’s Ryder Wright. The graduated senior, who comes from a big family that is famous worldwide in the rodeo community, took the state championship for the second year in a row in the saddle bronc competition with a short-go score of 79 to add to his total from the first two days.

Wright’s father, Cody, was a two-time world champion in saddle bronc, and several of his other family members, including his older brothers, have had success nationally. In fact, Ryder lost the state title to one of his brothers and one of his uncles in his freshman and sophomore years.

In 2016, his biggest competition came from his own home again.

Ryder’s brother Stetson, a sophomore, was close behind Ryder going into Saturday while their uncle, Stuart Wright, was third. However, Stetson was unable to complete his short-go Saturday while Stuart couldn’t top his nephew.

“It feels good to get two under my belt,” Ryder said. “It’s been fun competing with my brothers and uncles all year. Luckily, it ended in my favor.”

For Ryder, competing in the same event as so many other family members is both fun and beneficial.

“(Competing against family) pushes you harder, I think,” Ryder said. “It gets me fired up, and it’s a lot more fun with your family.”

Another such rodeo star was defending all-around national champion Kaytlyn Miller. The sophomore out of Enterprise won the breakaway roping and goat tying events while placing second in barrel racing and fifth in pole bending. Hayden Madsen and Sayge Madsen won barrel racing and pole bending, respectively.

The boys cutting event was easily won by Dawson Stewart while Austin Allred won bull riding with Stetson Wright taking second. McKenna Coronado won the girls cutting event, Lance Evans won the reined cow horse event and Hadley Gates won the tie down. Troy Flanigan took state in the rifle shoot while Jordon Pierce took honors in the trap shoot. Ty Allred tied with Dawson Stewart for the title in the steer wrestling competition while Dylin Ahlstrom and Wyatt Christensen of Spikers Club took the team roping event.