A basketball player, a Marine and an Aussie. Put them in a rodeo arena and you have yourself the makings of a championship team.
Blue Mountain Community College coach Shawn Eng did just that, and it paid off with a Northwest Region title, an all-around champion and three event winners in Hermiston during the last weekend in April.
“I went out and recruited Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Idaho high school finals,” Eng said. “I reached out to see if they wanted to come. I worked hard to get them guys.”
Hermiston native Preston Pederson roped and wrestled his way to the all-round title, finishing second in tie-down roping and third in the steer wrestling. He piled up 1,999 points to take home the top prize. Teammate Bryce Harrison was second (1,531 points).
“We definitely pulled through at our hometown rodeo in winning the team title,” said Pederson, a 2016 Hermiston grad. “We have practiced hard all year and stayed focused.”
BMCC will take five to the College National Finals Rodeo June 9-15 in Casper, Wyoming. In addition to Pederson, Payton Wright of Stanfield will compete in bareback riding, Harrison (Condon) will compete in steer wrestling, Duncan Mackenzie (Baker City) is in the tie-down, and Aussie Clay Hall will ride bulls.
Wright, Harrison and Hall won regional titles in their respective events.
“It was kind of a slow start to the season in the fall,” Eng said. “Then with the winter we had, we weren’t getting in the practices we wanted. As it got closer to our rodeo, things started to fall together. Of these five, three are freshmen and two are returning students.”
With a strong group of five athletes to take to the CNFR, Eng is looking for good things in Casper.
“Going back with these five guys — two in rough stock, one in multiple events and three in roping — we are looking at a national title if everything falls into place. In the past 10 years, we have not had a (men’s) national team title, but we have had a lot of individual champions.”
Head and shoulders above the rest
Pederson is not your typical rodeo athlete. At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, he was a natural on the basketball court for the Bulldogs, and he has learned to use his size to his advantage in the rodeo arena.
He finished second in tie-down roping with 801 points, well back of Trey Recanzone of Central Washington (1,181 points).
Pederson compiled 686 points in steer wrestling to finish third (top three each each event advance to the CNFR). Harrison won the title with 1,079 points.
He also will compete in team roping with Rayna Longeway of University of Idaho.
“Since their women are going, they got to add another person and it was Rayna, and she chose team roping,” said Pederson, who is the header of the team. “I roped with her all year. She could have picked anyone, and she picked me. I’m excited. We have a blast roping together.”
Pederson, who is making his third trip to the CNFR, will have a busy week in Casper, but he does tend to play favorites when it comes to his events.
“My personal favorite is calf roping,” Pederson said. “I started steer wrestling in high school and did it my first year in college. I didn’t compete in it last year because of a knee injury, but I got back in it because I wanted to go after the all-around title.”
While his size is not an issue in roping, it can be in steer wrestling, where most guys are a bit shorter and heavier.
He works with Heppner native Tony Currin, the 1987 PRCA Rookie of the Year, and four-time Columbia River Circuit champion, to hone his skills in the big man’s event.
“He’s not built like a typical bulldogger, but once he gets locked in, things happen,” Eng said of Pederson.
Pederson will get help from Currin at nationals, and friend Hayden Fullerton of Dayton is letting him borrow a horse (Cash) for the event.
Currin owns the hazing horse that Calgary Smith will ride when working with Pederson. For tie-down, Pederson will ride his horse Valentine.
“Matt Liscom owns the heading horse I will use for team roping,” Pederson said. “I will take four horses nationals. Everyone has helped me a lot.”
Doing the Wright thing
After graduating from Stanfield High in 2015, Wright spent time in the Marines. He never got on a bucking horse until he was 20 years old, but rodeo runs through his veins.
His grandfather, Jackie Wright, competed alongside the likes of Casey Tibbs, and is in the St. Paul Rodeo Hall of Fame. His dad, Scott Wright, also rode broncs, last competing at the Pendleton Round-Up when he was 40.
“They were pretty good,” Payton Wright said. “My dad is my biggest coach, and I get some help from RC Landingham. I kinda grew up roping a bit, but I like bucking horses more than roping.”
Wright got back into rodeo in February 2018 when he got out of the service.
“It’s a different life than the military scene,” he said. “There, your whole day was planned out for you. I love it.”
Wright said Eng sought him out, and after exploring other options, decided BMCC was the right place for him.
“I wanted to come back home, and Pendleton is the closest place to Stanfield.”
Wright earned 1,060 points for the bareback title this season.
Eng said Wright’s military background shows in the rodeo arena.
“He is solid, that kid,” Eng said. “He knows how to take orders, he tries hard and there is no quit.”
Wright, who will continue to ride on his PRCA permit this spring and summer, will compete in Eagle, Idaho, Sisters and Union with Pederson before heading to Casper.