To the cheers of a near-sellout crowd of 6,500 fans at the Casper Events Center in Wyoming, Fresno State senior Colton Campbell won the National intercollegiate Rodeo Association men’s all-around championship, the highest honor possible at the College National Finals Rodeo.
Campbell’s 240 points earned him the championship on June 15 in Casper, Wyoming, where he represented the Fresno State Bulldoggers club rodeo team. He beat out Northwest College’s Caleb McMillan, who finished second with 225 points. Campbell claimed Fresno State’s first men’s individual title since Dudley Little won the same event in 1974.
Thanks to his scores in three preliminary rounds and the short go final round, Campbell’s all-around total was based on his second-place finish in tie down roping and 19th-place finish in the team roping header standings.
“Ever since I started roping when I was young, winning nationals has been a dream,” said Campbell, who came to Fresno State from Klamath Falls, Oregon. “I would like to thank my family, Coach Uhuru Adem, teammates and everyone else who has helped. I’m also very lucky to have the two horses that I competed on that I’ve had for so long. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”
Campbell competed in team roping with his horse, Desperada, and in tie down roping with his horse, Nic-N-Pine, which had received the 2016 NIRA/American Quarter Horse Association Horse of the Year award.
The win was made even more dramatic in the preceding days when Campbell and his heeler partner, Brushton Minton of West Hills Community College, failed to score in the opening two rounds. To be eligible in the all-around category, riders must score in at least two events, and the duo was scoreless with only one preliminary round left.
“I went over to give him a pep talk,” Adem said, “and he beat me to it and told me exactly what I was going to tell him. He isn’t one to get nervous, or at least he fools me. When you’re competing against the best, it’s hard to start slow and still be able tell yourself that you can be victorious. Ninety-five percent of winning at this level is mental.”
Moments later those worries were erased after Campbell and his partner earned a successful final preliminary round time of 5.0 seconds, tying for third overall in the round among 53 pairs.
Campbell was already well respected on the national circuit in the summer of 2018 with the top national team roping header ranking in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association pro permit standings, the top level before riders apply for pro rookie status. He had improved his timing and technique by training and competing with top-40 ranked professional Jordan Ketscher, a Fresno State alumnus and four-time College Nationals Final Rodeo qualifier himself.
That momentum seemed to poise Campbell for a fitting final collegiate season in 2018-19, after qualifying for the previous three CNFR events in 2018 (seventh in team roping header), 2017 (19th in team roping header and 27th in tie down roping) and 2016 (fourth in team roping healer).
“It certainly felt a lot different last fall when things weren’t clicking, but the sport can do that to you,” Campbell said. “I hardly earned any points for the team, and I wasn’t ranked in the top 10 in the region any event. I went home and practiced really hard over the winter and came back refocused.”
Starting with the team’s home rodeo in March, Campbell won six individual events and finished second in five others in the spring season’s six competitions. More importantly, his leadership helped the team win six of the season’s 10 event team titles, as well as the overall region championship for the first time in more than 30 years.
In the finals, Campbell bettered his pre-event regular season rankings in the all-around (eighth), tie down roping (11th) and team roping header standings (24th).
As Campbell has matured, so has the Fresno State Bulldoggers club team roster, now with over 50 men’s and women’s athletes, and nearly quadruple its size from when he was a freshman in 2014-15.
“The impact of Colton and the other seniors was huge because they were ready to go in whatever direction I suggested, and they made the transition easy since it was my first year back [as coach] and we had so many riders,” said Adem, who completed his first year as the club’s coach after competing on the team from fall 2012 to spring 2014. “It’s been extra special watching Colton mature because he was a freshman when I was a senior, and I got to see him shape the team’s future with other seniors.”
Bulldoggers finish 17th in overall team standings
That leadership also helped Fresno State finish 17th in the men’s team standings at the Casper collegiate finale.
Six other Fresno State students also competed, including senior Bodi Dodds (Sanger) and freshman Cole Dodds (Sanger) in team roping (11th place); junior Mitchell Parham (Clovis) in bareback riding (14th place); sophomore Reed Neely (Sanger) in saddle bronc riding (15th); junior Christopher Rosedale (Kingsburg) in bull riding (23rd); and senior Rial Engelhart (Lakeview, Oregon) in tie down roping (28th place) and team roping (46th).
“Our team had a memorable year,” Campbell said. “It’s been great having teammates to practice against that are among the best in the nation. It’s going to be even more fun to see where the returnees and Coach Adem take the team in the future.”
Campbell’s road will lead him to an even busier summer as he tries establish himself as a rookie on the pro circuit. He expects to compete at a host of rodeos around the West before he returns to his Cal-Ore family ranch near Klamath Falls – the place where he started competing when he was 4 years old.
Fresno State is nearly 500 miles away, but it was a natural fit for Campbell. His mother, Andra (Jansen) Campbell, attended Fresno State, as did his aunt, Amanda (Campbell) Leo, and his uncle, Ryan Nelson. The family also knew and respected Dr. Randy Perry, animal sciences and agricultural education department chair and campus beef unit coordinator.
“I’ve been lucky to compete for Fresno State, and also to be able to take classes in livestock management, which has really helped me understand animals in a new way,” Campbell said. “I’ve always known the basics of managing a ranch, but didn’t know what was happening inside the animals with their organs, digestion and such. My dad got an ag business degree so I went with the animal science degree instead, and maybe we can put our heads together and have an even better operation.”
The rodeo program can attest to his potential in whatever he does.
“Colton is a true cowboy,” Adem said. “Right after he got his award at nationals, he was just as interested in talking with his dad about what cows they were going to move around on the family ranch. That’s a special combination – he’s humble, really likeable and so handy around the arena. Those traits are what started the sport, and shows he’s a cowboy first and foremost.”