Justin Neill isn’t unlike many others his age. The recent high school graduate moonlights at U-Haul Moving and Storage at El Paseo as a customer service representative. Helping customers with truck sharing and other moving needs is a good way for a college freshman to earn money while gaining valuable work experience.
But it’s what he does when he’s away from the U-Haul store that might turn some heads. Neill, an accomplished bull rider, has been competing in rodeos nearly his whole life.
“He’s been working at this since he was very young,” notes U-Haul Company of Northern New Mexico president Tom Neill, Justin’s father. “It’s been a lot of fun watching him reach all his dreams so far.”
Raised on Rodeos
The younger Neill started attending rodeos with his father, who also competed in the sport, as a child. Justin began riding sheep at age 2 and calves at 6. A couple of years later, he transitioned to riding steers. Then junior bulls at 11 before making his debut on open bulls at 16.
While some of his classmates were on the high school football or basketball teams, Neill was on the rodeo team, representing his school and New Mexico at numerous competitions. He did so one final time in mid-July at the High School National Finals in Wyoming, where he had two rides and stayed atop his bull for about six seconds both times.
“I’m kind of glad my high school rodeo career is over, but I’m sad to see it end, too,” Justin remarks. “I appreciate the experience I got in high school because I became more of an experienced bull rider there.”
Now an Aggie
The body of work he built in high school caught the eye of colleges with rodeo programs as he fielded offers from schools like Kansas and Texas. In the end, though, Neill chose New Mexico State University. The Aggies offered him a full-ride scholarship in the hopes that he’ll offer the rodeo team with some full rides on bulls.
While rodeo programs aren’t as widely known as other collegiate teams, it’s an organized sport governed under the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. The season runs from September through March and competing schools are sorted into 12 regions. The top three teams in each region advance to the College National Finals Rodeo to compete for the national championship.
“New Mexico State has a really good team with some good athletes,” Justin says. “I feel good about it. They have a history of team and individual titles.”
While Neill primarily focuses on what’s awaiting him at New Mexico State, that hasn’t stopped him from looking further ahead and setting some lofty long-term goals.
“Eventually, I would like to win the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association World Championship,” Justin says.
And just like many other young athletes, Neill credits a lot of the success he’s enjoyed in the sport to his support system, especially his father.
“He’s hauled me to rodeos and paid entry fees,” Justin says. “He pushed me hard, and if I didn’t have him I probably wouldn’t be here right now doing this.”
Appreciative of the praise, the elder Neill says some of Justin’s success comes from a lesson he’s learning at U-Haul.
“What you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it,” Tom proclaims. “That stands true at U-Haul, and it stands true with what Justin is doing in his rodeo career.”
Images courtesy of Pounding Hooves.
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