Sometimes you just have to grab life by the horns.
Danville’s Tyler Simas, a steer wrestler, is literally doing such, qualifying for the National High School Finals Rodeo in Lincoln, Nebraska, July 18-24.
The recent Danville graduate and football player captured first at the state finals in Wellsboro in May to qualify for the nationally televised event. He finished runner-up in the steer wrestling standings by 28 points (68-40).
Simas has been involved with rodeos all of his life, so it’s only natural that he’s more giddy than nervous to show what he can do.
“I’m pretty excited for this, having a couple of friends traveling along together,” Simas said. “It’ll be a good trip, I’ll get to meet some new people and have fun. … Everything will play out the way it should and I’m excited to represent Pennsylvania and perform in front of that many people.”
Records dating back to 1949 show that nobody from the state has won the national championship in steer wrestling.
The previous two national events have broken records in the number of contestants and spectators. Simas is unsure of how many people are expected to attend this year, but noted, “It’ll be bigger than any football game I’ve ever been part of.”
Simas is working full-time at a rodeo in Lancaster, New York. When he isn’t on the clock, he’s using the resources available to him to fine-tune his craft for the ever-growing number of fans
Simas expects he will compete in two professional rodeos prior to making the trip to the high school nationals.
Simas’ task is anything but easy.
While riding a horse up to 30 mph, he has to catch up to a bull that is going just as fast and has been given a head start. The bull is kept running in a straight line by a hazer. Simas then has to get off the side of the horse and grab the steer’s right horn before going for the left horn.
Once the horse and Simas’s feet get ahead of him and the bull, he lets go of the stallion entirely. With his 6-foot, 3-inch, 240-pound frame, he then has to get the bull onto the ground, having all four of its feet to one side for the time to stop.
Simas says his body structure certainly helps during the high-risk injury sport.
“I see people that practice and are really thin and struggle,” he said. “They have to be perfect and aren’t able to make mistakes. I have a little more reach and can maybe get away with something going a little wrong.
“I’m still trying to do everything fundamentally and not cheat the steers, but my size definitely helps.”
A defensive lineman for the Ironmen for four years, Simas says tackling a bull takes far more precision than taking down another football player.
“The steer knows what to expect and it can prove to be costly if you make one mistake,” he said. “It is like football, though, in that when I see others do well, it pumps me up a lot.”
Getting to this point has been a lifetime in the making.
Simas grew up at the rodeo, saying it was his family’s source of income. His father, Greg, is a rodeo announcer and is often traveling all over the country for the gig. His mom, Jen, is a nurse but has always competed at rodeos. She also trains and sells horses.
But over time, Tyler fell in love with football and began taking the sport more seriously. That meant having to cut practicing and performing for rodeos from his daily life for a while. That is, until he attended a clinic in McVeytown, bringing back his strong interest in rodeo.
“From there, I went to clinics and rodeos on the weekends,” Simas said. “I traveled to states like Florida and Texas, getting better. When I came back for the state rodeo, I wound up finishing first.”
Football might have gotten in the way of him attending competitive rodeo events. Simas estimates he attended 14 of the 30 qualifying state rodeos, hurting his cumulative scoring. That didn’t matter, however, because he still got to put some time into both sports, often practicing rodeo during football season.
“It could have gone a little different, but I think I accomplished what I wanted in half the events as everyone else to qualify for nationals,” Simas said. “... When I was playing football, some of my buddies owned steers so I’d go over there a lot of the time.”
With the national competition in his sights and recently obtaining a professional rodeo card, Simas hasn’t lost focus on football either. He plans to attend Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, majoring in animal science while playing on the gridiron for the Golden Norse.
“If I could do both [while living in Oklahoma], I would,” Simas said. “I could always rodeo in life, but football is right now.”
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