Ellison wrestles down gold for UWA

Published 12:16 pm Thursday, July 27, 2023

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

J.T. Ellison and the University of West Alabama rodeo team went into the 2023 College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming on June 17 with lofty goals — to make the top 12 finishers.

Not only did Ellison finish in the top 12 of the individual steer wrestling, he won the national championship.

“Casper was beautiful,” Ellison said. “The atmosphere was unlike any other, and we pretty much went in there wanting to make the top 12. We were just happy to make the top 12 … Our goal was very blown out of the water.”

Ellison joined UWA teammate Taycie Matthews as a national champion as Matthews won the individual national championship in barrel racing. UWA’s women’s rodeo team also took home the women’s college rodeo national championship at the finals, the school’s first national title since the football team’s in 1971.

Ellison also joined prestigious, local company as he joined Chilton County High School graduate, Billingsley resident and former UWA cowboy Zach Wilson as a national champion. Wilson won the 2013 tie down individual national championship.

“Just to be able to make the college finals is prestigious, but to be able to win it puts you head over heels above a lot of people,” Ellison said. “You win it, and it takes you forever to accept that you won it. It is one of those deals that I get to take with me throughout life, and it’ll stick with me forever.”

Ellison’s mother and father, Rhonda and Kenny Ellison, have competed in rodeo for a long time, and Ellison grew up in and around it. While Ellison attended Jemison High School he competed in high school rodeo for the state of Alabama where he did steer wrestling.

“I just grew up in it, and in high school I just did steer wrestling for the fun of it,” Ellison said. “Then, I started to like it more and I just stuck with it.”

Ellison earned a scholarship to UWA after his stellar showing in high school. He said steer wrestling is all about form and technique. Some cowboys can use power over the steer, but the basis of steer wrestling is technique, which is what Ellison said he focuses on by controlling the steer’s head and body.

“I have watched J.T. for four years pour his heart and soul into it,” UWA rodeo coach Daniel Poole said in an interview with AL.com. “That is why he is a national champion. It’s a special moment watching his hard work pay off.”

The college finals was the last time Ellison put on a UWA rodeo vest, and he ended his college career on the highest note possible.

Ellison said rodeo has always been a hobby for him and said his parents only ever wanted him to get a degree. After that, everything else was up to him. However, they too are now asking him what is next for the now college steer wrestling national champion.

“Rodeo is going to stay with me for a long time,” Ellison said. “Now that I have won the college finals, I am going to go to professional rodeo for a few years and then reevaluate my life after that and just keep going.”

Ellison wants to compete in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the largest rodeo organization in the world. He plans to get his professional card and become a cowboy within the organization.

Ellison plans to compete in the southeast with PRCA until mid-summer of next year, and then wants to head out west to compete in rodeos there.