HEBER CITY -- The Wilderness Circuit Finals brought spirited competition last weekend to the Wasatch County Events Center.
A year-end title in the Wilderness Circuit had been at the top of J.C. Malone's to-do list since the Roy resident bought his PRCA card in 2004, so when the moment finally arrived over the Oct. 24-26 weekend, in front of family and friends, it felt to Malone "like I had finally proved something to myself."
Malone entered the Ram Wilderness Circuit Finals Rodeo with just a $697 advantage on five-time year-end champion Nate Baldwin and then earned checks in all three rounds -- winning the final go in a rodeo-best time of 7.5 seconds -- to wrap up the tie-down roping title and come within one-tenth of a second of tying traveling partner Clint Robinson for the average win as well.
"This is right at the top of my list (of career highlights)," Malone said. "I finished second at the (2010 Ram) National Circuit Finals Rodeo and I've won a round at Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days, but winning our circuit, with the level of competition we have here with Nate, Clint, Matt Shiozawa and Jake Hannum ... well, this is pretty special.
"Nate (2005-08) and Matt (2009-12) have pretty much dominated for a long time as the guys at the top. I always thought I could rope as well as those guys and I've been chasing them a long time. I thought one day it would happen, but it's taken a long time. It feels good to finally get there. Winning the year-end has always been a goal, much more than winning the circuit finals."
Malone actually had the year-end title clinched after the second round at the Wahsatch County Event Center and then, third in the average behind Robinson and Rhen Richard, he shifted strategy to make a run at the three-head title.
"I knew I had a good calf that gave me a decent chance," Malone said. "I reached a little bit, but it worked and I got the 7.5. Richard followed immediately with an 8.3, so I still had the lead, but then Clint Robinson came through with the 7.7 to edge me out (25.3 to 25.4).
"But, hey, with the win in the final round and the year-end title, I was happy. Heber City is only about 90 minutes from home (in Roy), so my wife, Mandy, son, Preyson, parents, grandparents and two sets of aunts and uncles were there to share it with me, too. That made it even more special."
Malone, who works as a farrier full time and is developing a horse trailer conversion business (JB Trailer Conversion) with his father, Bryan, is undecided on whether to take the next step and try to earn a berth in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as Baldwin, Shiozawa, Robinson and Hannum have all done before him.
"I still debate about that; whether I want to jump in (the truck) and go to a lot," said Malone, 28. "I went to about 33 rodeos this year and all but Sheridan, Casper and Cheyenne (in neighboring Wyoming) were circuit rodeos. I've got my work here and a young family, so it's a tough decision."
The other champions at the $98,260 rodeo were bareback rider Caleb Bennett (247 points on three head), steer wrestler Olin Hannum (13.9 seconds on three head), team ropers Tadd Thomas and Dusty Morse (19.7 seconds on three head), saddle bronc rider Cody Wright (251 points on three head), bull rider Steve Woolsey (238 points on three head) and barrel racer McKale Hadley (50.63 seconds on three runs).
Story courtesy of the PRCA