Bulldog attitude has taken Jake Hettinger to the top of rodeo event

From all directions, smoke billows from the Brown's Park landscape as the Buster Flats Fire continues to burn.

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Each run sets five different brains in motion. The five minds, a combination of human and animal, all must think as one for a successful run.

In steer wrestling, a rodeo sport that pits man against animal, a competitor is scored on how fast he wrestles a steer to the ground.

Two humans, two horses and a steer are sent into the arena at full speed. Only perfect harmony between the beings will bring the 560-pound bulldog to its knees.

In the steer wrestling arena, Jake Hettinger is the command center. On June 25 he brought home a state championship in the sport for the second year in a row. Thursday night in his own arena, he displayed his talents for a crowd of one.

He begins each go by backing his horse, Chullo, into the corner of a box-like waiting area. This is where the hunt for the steer begins.

On the other side, a hazer, someone who guides the steer in a straight line, does the same thing.

In the middle, a steer waits anxiously in a small pen.

When the animal is released, Hettinger and his horse are off. About 20 feet out, he catches up to the steer, leaps from his steer and attempts to bring the beast to the ground.

This steer is a feisty one. It doesn't want to go down. The enraged black animal pulls Hettinger for another 10 feet. He is dragged by the animal's momentum, but holds on. Now he gains control, stealing the steer's momentum. The battle is virtually won here.

With the momentum shifted to his advantage, Hettinger grabs the horn with one hand, shifts his other hand under the steer's nose and twists. In one fluid motion the massive beast is tossed to the ground. He has been defeated.

It all happens in a matter of a few chaotic seconds. Hettinger emerges from the giant dust cloud that has formed from the furious chain of events. He has tamed the chaos on this run.

"That was a pretty good run," said Hettinger. "I got the steer to kick. Perfect takedown."

When the dust settles, Hettinger gets on his horse and accomplishes the feat again. And again. And again.

He is a relentless bull-dogger. When he was in eighth grade, he had to be that way just to take the bull-dog down once.

Now, it's what elevates him to perfection.

Hettinger has participated in the rodeo since he was nine. He has brought home 11 all-around saddles in youth rodeo competition including a World Championship in flag racing when he was 11.

But his past rodeo prowess didn't equate into initial steer wrestling success.

"I was 120 pounds when I first started," Hettinger said. "I was too small to bring that thing down."

Hettinger has grown to six feet, 165 pounds, but it is the years of practice and technical mastery, not just size, that allow him to tackle steer after steer.

"He's stuck with it," said hazer and honorary coach Burl McMillen. "I've seen him get knocked off, but he's continued to get back up."

McMillen, a professional rodeoer for ten years, began training Hettinger and seven other boys, including his own son Casey, to steer wrestle.

By breaking each part of steer wrestling down, the students began to get better and better, said McMillen.

McMillen says it was Hettinger's desire, not the training, that has allowed him to succeed.

"If these kids didn't have the want to, they wouldn't have made it," McMillen said. "His parents gave him the opportunities with the arena, transportation and everything else. Jake took those opportunities and excelled."

Hettinger knew that success would only come after the many bruises.

"When I was young and doing rodeo, I wasn't always successful," said Hettinger. "But I kept working at it, and I became successful. I knew I could do that with steer wrestling so I stuck with it."

That's the stubborn determination that brings home championship upon championship

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