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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Payson resident Jess Davis wraps up in preparation for the eighth round of the bareback bronco riding event at the Las Vegas finals.

PAYSON — While growing up, competing in rodeos wasn't a way for Jess Davis and Wesley Silcox to set themselves apart from their siblings.

To them, it was a family pastime.

The "cowboy lifestyle" has been ingrained in 22-year-old world champion bull rider Silcox since he was a little kid. His dad Brad Silcox used to ride bulls and Wes' older brother Shawn also was a cowboy, Silcox's mom Julie said.

"(Wes has) had a rope in his hand since he was 3," she said.

Silcox started his rodeo career in the team roping and tie-down roping events — events in which horse-riding cowboys toss lassos around a bolting calf's neck.

But when he was a junior in high school, he followed in his dad's footsteps and started riding bulls. He won the state championship his senior year and placed high at the National High School Rodeo Finals.

As for Jess Davis, his older brother and sisters participated in the local rodeo circuit in high school. Davis, 26, joined the action when he was in junior high.

While his siblings have made the transition from competitor to spectator, he's still riding strong.

"I just took it a little farther than the rest," Davis says, humbly.

If Davis hadn't just finished second and earned $81,500 in the bareback competition at this month's 2007 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas — the Super Bowl of rodeos — that last comment might not seem like such an understatement.

It was at that same rodeo that Silcox straddled spinning, bucking bulls and rode his way to a world championship and a $118,000 paycheck.

It was also the same rodeo where five other Utah rodeo stars — Anthony Bello, Oakley; Cody Wright, Milford; Rusty Allen, Lehi; Jake Hannum, Ogden; and Vickie Solmonsen, Riverton — represented their state "quite well," said Lewis Feild, the former five-time world champion cowboy from Elk Ridge.

Feild, who's been to every national rodeo since 1981 either as a competitor or spectator, said hundreds of thousands stampede to the 10-day event where this year $5.5 million was given out to the best cowpokes in such events as bull riding, saddlebronc riding, bareback riding, tie-down roping and steer wrestling. Women compete in barrel racing.

"It's extremely exciting, very entertaining," said Feild. "That's why you can't get a ticket to it."

And it's not for the faint-of-heart urban cowboy.

"In the rodeo world, (the national rodeo is) what it's all about," he said. "It takes a tough, tough cowboy to get there."

Over the years, Silcox and Davis have accumulated their laundry lists of injuries and hard knocks to prove they're not just flashes in the pan, their parents said.

Three years ago, Davis was riding a bronc and dislocated a muscle on his right collarbone that kept him sidelined for nearly seven months. Several times, a few horses almost left hoof prints on the back of his skull, Davis said.

And that includes one of his first rides.

"That flipped me pretty quick," he laughed, recalling the experience. "They tell me he dang near kicked my head off."

Recently, Silcox had his own bout of setbacks. In the first round of last year's national rodeo, Silcox injured his wrist, but he pressed on and finished the competition in third place, earning himself a $65,600 payday.

Afterward, he had to have surgery, Brad Silcox said.

This year, Silcox "got real hot" and started winning big rodeo after big rodeo, Brad Silcox said. Then, disaster struck again. In September, Silcox was riding a bull in Omaha, Neb., when he broke his jaw and eye socket.

The injury required surgery, and doctors had to wire his jaw shut, Feild said. Silcox lost a bit of weight, and, more importantly, he missed seven weekends of tune-up rodeos before the big show.

Silcox still entered the competition as a high-ranked contender, but he was nervous because he'd only ridden a few practice bulls in the two months prior to the national rodeo. But that didn't hold him back.

"It's just like riding a bike," he said.

Injury or not, there was a feeling in the air that this was Silcox's year. Before the rodeo started, Rod Davis, Jess Davis' dad, found Brad Silcox outside the Thomas and Mack Center, where the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association holds the finals, and shook his hand.

"He's got it won," Rod Davis said.

"Ah, I don't know about that," Brad Silcox replied.

"Oh, yes he will," Rod insisted. "He's just gotta ride."

And that he did. Silcox rode so fabulously, the crowd knew he had it won the moment he hopped off his bull — named Wolf Can Do — on Saturday night, Feild said.

"I was extremely happy for him," he said. "I kinda know what he's going through."

Though Jess finished as a runner-up, he's not playing the "what if" game, his dad said.

"There was no looking back," Rod Davis said. "If you look back you dwell on it too much."

When Davis was 12, Feild let him ride a practice bull — with his dad's approval, of course — and since that day he's watched him improve. For his part, Feild thinks Davis rode every horse as well good as can be expected for the cards he was dealt.

"He didn't draw that well," he said, referring to the way rodeo officials determine — or draw — riders and horses.

Before a round, they draw a horse's name from a hat and assign them to bronco busters in a prearranged order to keep things "totally random" and "completely fair," Feild said. When a rider gets a bad draw, it means he drew a horse that isn't aggressive and doesn't buck hard, which hurts the rider's final score.

By the final night, Davis was in fourth place, but his final ride catapulted him to second place in the overall standings.

Feild was so impressed by Davis' performance, he saw a little bit of himself in this young cowpoke who is consistently improving with each passing year.

"He's gradually getting there," he said.

As for the rest of the Utah crew, Feild said he's proud of all the Utah competitors. Bello, Wright or Allen — who finished fifth, seventh and eighth, respectively, in their events — could have easily walked away with a championship buckle but "it just seemed like none of them could get on a roll," he said.

"All three of them will be back next year," he said.

Hannum is a extremely quick, tough cowboy, he said, and Solmonsen probably had the best showing of her pro rodeo career.

"It's tough to keep them barrel racing horses to their best night after night," he said.

Anything else about Silcox?

"What can you say about him?" Feild chuckled. "He's a world champion. Not many people can say that."

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