BLACKFOOT – There is no doubt that the smile on an Idaho state champion is different from the average smile on an athlete. There are similarities to be sure, but the state champion's smile has that little bit more to it and it says so much more to everyone that sees it.
At least that's the case with Riley Barber from Firth, crowned the state champion bull rider during the state high school rodeo finals.
“It still hasn't quite sunk in yet,” Barber said on Sunday. “I know I won it, I know that I did the best at the state finals, but the talented field that I beat to win it was so very tough and good riders, it still hasn't quite sunk in.”
To say the least, Barber won it when others couldn't and that says a lot for his talent and work ethic and drive to be the best that he can be.
He was flying under the radar for sure, he wasn't even a district champion coming into the state finals, although he did come from a very tough district with the likes of Rawley Johnson, Brayden Anderson, and Ceasar Weed all advancing from District 4, all of them with better credentials than Barber had, but he had that little bit extra saved up for the state finals. There were also other riders coming in from other districts that had momentum on their side, riders like Cooper Cooke and Riley Barg and others that all had been there and done that in the past.
When Barber opened the state finals with a 69.5 point ride in the his first performance, he announced that he was riding with confidence and a deep-seated desire to win the whole shebang.
That score didn't even win his performance, but it announced his presence and he was a half point behind three riders who all posted a 70 in the first go round.
That set the stage for what was to follow.
Barber followed that ride up with what turned out to be the best ride of the finals, when he came back with a 75 in the second go round and established what turned out to be an insurmountable lead heading into the third round and ultimately the short go.
“I knew that I had a great ride in the second go round, but I expected somebody to come out of the pack to get a second ride and challenge me in the average,” Barber said. “When that didn't happen, I just concentrated on not letting anyone catch me late.”
With all of his energy and concentration channeled, Barber set about taking care of business. He got a favorable draw in the short go round and was going to go last in the field of riders and would know exactly what he needed to win it all.
“I didn't have the best of things the final week of districts, I tried a couple of things that didn't work out for me,” Barber said. “Afterwards, I went back to basics, I put in the work and things worked out great for me at the state finals.”
Worked out well in the state finals may be a bit of an understatement for Barber, but what would you expect from an athlete who is both a team concept athlete and a top-notch individual sport athlete that is trying to succeed in all areas.
Barber isn't one of those athletes who just concentrates on a single event or a single sport. In rodeo, he participates in four events -- bull riding, steer wrestling, tie down roping, and team roping. He is only a sophomore, so he has time remaining to perfect those other three events, but he is more than just a rodeo competitor.
He is also a starter and key defensive performer on the Firth High School football team and a medal caliber wrestler in the winter for the Cougar wrestling team. There is no doubt that his work in football and wrestling have helped his rodeo career and vice versa as well. They have all worked together to make him the young man that he is becoming and will be.
“I love the fact that I don't have to choose between the three different sports,” Barber said. “They are all important to me and they all matter to me as well.”
For now, Barber will concentrate on rodeo, with the National High School Rodeo Finals looming in just a month. He will also begin to work on football, the next sport on the horizon for him, and with camps and weightlifting important to both of the sports ahead of him.
“I have played primarily defense so far, mainly as a linebacker, both middle linebacker and outside linebacker,” Barber said. “I also think that I will have some time in the offensive backfield as well, probably not the feature back, but as a blocking back or a fullback type of player. I am looking forward to this fall and what we can do with Cougar football.”
There is no doubt that Barber will have his work cut out for him in the next few weeks, but with his work ethic and ability to do it all and keep improving, his work is cut out for him.
The notion here is that he will put in the work and if he can keep focused and not let the ambiance of the famed Lazy E Arena, where the national finals is now scheduled, he will be just fine and if the field isn't careful, they could just find the name of Riley Barber in the top 10.
If that happens, and it very well could, then "Katy, bar the door," anything could happen, including a national championship for young Mr. Barber.