By Mickey Winfield: PNT staff writer
What started out as a teen in trouble has turned into an incredible success story.
Portales High School junior Michael Trujillo is making his annual transition from the Ram football team to the much more profitable sport of team roping on the United States Team Roping Championships.
A few years ago, at 14, Trujillo got into trouble that the family didn’t want to go into detail about. Michael’s dad Jerry, a 20-year team roping veteran himself, hatched a plan.
“I told him, ‘You’re going to hang out with me. You’re going to go to practice with me, you’re going to go team roping with me. You’re going everywhere with me for three months.’”
“Me and my dad started hanging out. He told me to get on a horse for the first time,” Michael said. “I was messing around and I accidentally caught (a steer) for the first time and ever since then I just fell in love with (roping).”
During that time, Jerry taught Michael how to ride a horse, and taught him the sport of team roping, and it’s paid off for Michael in a big way.
Michael has won a 2006 four-door Dually diesel pickup truck valued at $42,000 and a three-horse Titan gooseneck trailer worth about $16,000 and numerous championship saddles, in addition to $160,000 to $170,000 in cash prizes.
And that was in just over two years of participation in the sport.
“It’s a blessing. You can see the look on his face, he’s a little embarrassed,” Jerry said. “That’s what he looks like when he wins (and) that’s what he looks like when he loses.”
“I’m real surprised,” Michael said. “(This level of success) doesn’t happen really that much. You have to practice a lot and learn how to handle a rope really good so it’s pretty crazy the things I’ve done.”
The money Michael makes is good, but long trips and restless roping nights keep him away from his friends.
“He misses out a lot on his friends. He misses his friends, he does,” Jerry said. “Instead of going out cruising with his friends on Saturday night, he’s sittin’ up there in the horse trailer sleeping next to me, getting ready for the next roping on Sunday morning.”
“Me and my dad, we hang out every day,” Michael said. “We know each other like the back of our hands. He knows what I’m thinking, I know what he’s thinking. We rope together every day and we talk every day.”
In team roping, a ranking of 10 typically puts you in the top 20 in the world, and in just a short amount of time, Michael has been categorized as a number 7 and Jerry expects his son to rise to a number 8 this season.
“That’s my plan — to go pro,” Michael said. “I plan on being a number 8 pretty soon.”
“Once you get into number 8, you’re at the lower end of the pro (group),” Jerry said. “And that’s pretty unusual for a 17-year-old kid.
Especially for only doing it for two-and-a-half years.”
Michael also won three major roping events in one day in April of last year.
“It’s more fun because I get to go and compete against the big guys that I’ve looked up to since I started roping,” Michael said.
“He knows how to mentally win,” Jerry said. “For some reason, winning has always come easy to him.”
Michael wants to turn pro in team roping, but he also wants to attend Eastern New Mexico University and rope for the Greyhounds.
Michael’s roping season lasts from January to April and over the next several months he’ll be hauling his dad, horse and trailer to San Carlos, Ariz., Waco, Texas, Albuquerque’s Tingley Coliseum and the Four Corners Classic in Farmington.
Jerry counts himself lucky to have had the opportunity influence Michael, but he also has a message to other fathers raising sons.
“Hopefully (other fathers) don’t have to wait for a message sent to them that’s maybe too late,” Jerry said. “In my case, I don’t know that he would have ever taken the wrong path, but it was just a blessing and a wake-up call.”