Derrick Crawford chases rodeo dreams
"If you can do it in five seconds flat, you can bet your gonna win it," says pro rodeo cowboy Derrick Crawford, talking about his favorite event in his favorite sport.
The Lebanon native, 30, spends three-fourths of his year traveling the pro rodeo circuit. His forte is team roping. If he and his partner can loop their lariats around the neck and both hind legs of a galloping steer and bring the critter to the ground in 5.0 seconds, they're gonna be in the green.
He's hoping that will be the case when he performs before the hometown folks at the Whip Crackin' Rodeo, April 24-25, at the Wilson County Fairgrounds.
Competing whole-heartedly for the past 10 years in the International Pro Rodeo Association and Southeastern Pro Rodeo Association, Crawford, who has been dubbed "Black Jesus" by his peers, handles his horse and throws a his rope with the best of them. But then he has been practicing since he could sit in a saddle, learning from one of the best, his father, Leroy, who, by the way, has served as head cowboy at Charlie Daniels' Twin Pines Ranch for more than 30 years.
"My dad went to work at the ranch in 1981. They told him it would be part-time. He's been there ever since," said Crawford. "I was practically raised over on that ranch around horses and cattle. My dad taught me how to rope when I was 4. We lived four or five miles away from the barn. There's nothing like it. I just love that life. It teaches you a lot of responsibility.
"My daddy did a lot of amateur roping. At the time Charlie put on a lot of rodeos. I remember when I was 4, my dad put on a beginning roping school for people, and he had me demonstrating how to throw your rope," said the son of Leroy and Gladys Crawford.
The cowboy turned pro at 21 but began entering amateur rodeo events while in elementary school and placed first in team roping in the Junior Rodeo of Tennessee when he was in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
He graduated in 2004 from Wilson Central High School where he excelled in football, basketball and track. Standing 5-foot-9, the pro athlete weighs 200 pounds. He ran the 100 meters in 10.6 seconds in high school, the equivalent of about 9.7 in the 100-yard dash.
"I would say rodeoing has always been my favorite sport. I played sports to keep myself busy during school," said Crawford, who was given the opportunity to play football at several universities.
He attended Middle Tennessee State University and passed on college athletics.
"I wanted to focus on rodeo. That's my first love. It comes from being around your family that does it. I've roped with my dad. We competed with each other. Those are memories that keep with you forever."
In the rodeo world there are also nicknames that athletes may keep forever.
"They call me Black Jesus," confessed Crawford, who is not offended by the moniker pinned on him by his peers. "I rope pretty well. They told me, 'Man, like you don't miss. You're like a black Jesus.'"
He also shared that the guys who ride bulls and broncs refer to the ropers as "pretty boys." In turn the ropers call them "ruffians."
On a cloudy January afternoon, he drives his truck to a pasture, turns off the engine and sets four blue buckets on the turf. He whistles and shouts "Come on!" toward a herd of horses across the fence. From about 100 yards away, four quarterhorses obey his command and make their way to the gate, aware that a tasty lunch is in order.
Once on the other side of the fence, each drops its head deep into a bucket that holds a mix of corn, oats and molasses. They wear the names of Stoney, Roxy, Django and Levi.
The creatures, whose ages range from 13 to 15 years, are in their prime. For a rodeo cowboy, they are his most valuable player.
"They're 90 percent of what we do. You're only as good as your horse," says Crawford, who during the season swaps horses every two weeks. "You want to find a horse that can run fast. I want him to go as fast as that steer goes."
Quizzed about the spurs on his boots, he says, "It makes 'em pay attention. If I don't have 'em on, they know it and won't give me maximum effort. They're smart. Like big kids."
About the foursome, he noted, "They're really good for speed events, which is what we do."
The other half of the "we" would be roping partner, Jim Bowie Adcock, of Readyville in Cannon County.
"I've had the same partner three years. I've known him since I was 5 years old. We try to practice twice a week," said Crawford, who is the heeler, the one who ropes the back legs of the steer they are trying to bring down. Adcock aims to drop his loop over the head.
Adcock says of the duo, "We been going pretty hard for about three years. We've known each other since we were little kids and always roped together when we could, but the last few years we started hauling together going to the big rodeos. We roped together for so long. He knows what I'm gonna do, and I know what he's gonna do without having to discuss it in depth.
"Me and Derrick both head and heel, but at rodeos I head and he heels. He's heeled most of his life, and I've headed more, but we still swap over. To me it's definitely harder to heel than it is head. Somebody with Derrick's talent that can heel as good as him, I've got a lot of respect for. I worked at it but not nearly at Derrick's level as far as the heeling goes.
"Derrick's got a natural talent. He works at it too. It's hard in team roping to find somebody who's got the talent and works at it. His dad taught him a lot. He's a good all-around hand."
Addressing his partner's personality, Adcock said, "That is the happiest guy I know. He's always smiling, and it don't matter if we mess up at the rodeo, and I miss or he misses. We hate it, but we're both kinda laidback and go on to the next one and don't let it bother us."
At a recent rodeo the team ropers finished fourth in the first round, fourth in the second round and third in average netting each of them $1,000.
Crawford says, "I basically rodeo year round. Each new year starts a season. Right now, I do most of my rodeos on Saturdays and Sundays. In summer it's seven days a week, starting in June. We compete most nights against 40 to 50 other teams," said the cowboy, who works on the side for Manheim Auto Auction and also as a massage therapist.
He occasionally uses his skill as a masseuse on muscle-weary cowboys. "They'll ask me, 'How much do you charge for a minute?' I tell them a dollar. They'll say, 'OK, give me 30 minutes.'"
Crawford and Adcock drive the rodeo circuit in a heavy-duty truck that hauls a trailer containing living quarters with bunks, a kitchen, shower, fridge and satellite TV. There's also room for their horses.
They share the expenses with Garrett Smith of Lebanon and Will Sanders of Athens, Ala., who also tour with them. They take their turns behind the wheel on the highway.
"We rodeo every day from June through September. We can do 100 rodeos over those four months. The lifestyle can be stressful, especially if you have family at home," said Crawford who would like to get married in the fall and buy a house in Wilson County.
He and his three road travelers eat three squares a day and typically enjoy a hot breakfast at either Waffle House or McDonald's. They cook up a hot meal in the RV late at night after the rodeo is in the books.
"We stock up on groceries to save money and take turns cooking. We cook burgers and hot dogs and have occasional steak depending how good we did that week," he said.
They will cover the Southeast, Northeast and Midwest before the year is over, hitting well over 15 states. The biggest event is the Limestone County Sheriff's Rodeo, held May 19-20 in Athens, Ala.
Crawford, who is very good at what he does, made over $50,000 last year. His best payday ever came at the 2007 U.S. Team Roping Championship when he and his partner finishing ninth out of 412 and earned $7,600 apiece. And last year he won a 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 mega cab but swapped it back for $26,500.
While the prize money at most events averages between $1,000 and $2,000, entry fees run each cowboy from $120 to $150. Crawford knows the importance of saving his money for a rainy day. Among other expenses, he noted that it cost about $2,000 a year to maintain a rodeo horse.
The best part of being rodeo cowboy, he says is "going from city to city seeing different parts of the country."
The hardest part?
"Being away from family," said Crawford, who lives in Hermitage with his girlfriend, Crystal, and their 16-month-old son, Kaiden.
"Hopefully, one day I can get him to rope too," said the cowboy, planning to keep the family tradition going. "My granddaddy did it. He taught my dad, and my dad taught us. My brother, Glen, is a roper also."
His father, Leroy, 76, recollected, "Derrick, he was a roping nut, I tell you. I had a yellow dog, and Derrick [at age 8] would get out here and rope that dog. And I think that dog liked it. His mother would go out there in the yard with the lawn mower, and he'd practice roping her feet. She didn't like it."
Asked if his son was as good a roper as he was in his prime, the patriarch answered, "He ain't quite as good but almost."
Meanwhile, Derrick, who's roped himself into a profession he loves, says, "I can see myself rodeing till I'm about in my 70s. I'm hoping to go 20 more years full speed [on the pro rodeo circuit]. After that I'll shut it down."