The three young cowboys sit on the picnic table underneath the alleyway of the 4C’s Arena on a hot, late August evening. Not much is said - the public spotlight is not something they know, not like they know bull riding.
It’s the “Extreme Team” - three young men who live and breathe bull riding. Taylor Toves, 14, and brother, Austin Toves, 17, make up two of the team members with Jacob Mendenhall, 14, rounding out the third.
Why the “Extreme Team?” Remember the days and the voice of Jim McKay from the Wild World of Sports running footage from the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat?” At that time, it seemed like those were extreme sports but, now, it’s the thrills and spills of the death defying sport of bull riding that fuels the adrenaline of three young cowboys.
In his previous “life,” Jacob’s freetime was surrounded by his Game Boy, bicycle, and his computer. That was before bull riding. Then, two years ago, the family, of which Jacob is the youngest of eight kids, moved from west Texas to the Stephenville area. Jacob tried his hand at riding steers, “just to try,” and the love affair began.
Now, at the tender age of 14, Jacob spends his time in the rodeo arena and the football field, where he holds down a wide receiver position for the freshman Stephenville Yellow Jackets team. Jacob’s parents, Timmy and Larry Mendenhall, said that Jacob’s older brothers, who played each sport possible, refuse to get on a bull like their younger sibling. Jacob, in turn, makes fun of their lack of courage to engage in his favorite sport.
Taylor concentrates on riding and doesn’t give much indication that there is anything else he would rather do if given another choice. And, all three want to make bull riding a career. Austin is beginning his college career at Tarleton State University, working on a degree in Agriculture Services and Development and has hopes to make it onto the TSU Rodeo team. He said that if there is ever a day he can’t compete, he will get off riding bulls and start breeding them.
The two younger team members are sporting a cast on their arm. Jacob broke his left elbow just five weeks ago when he got hung up on his bull. Taylor, fractured his growth plate on high right arm on July 28 when he got hung up on a bull in a Cleburne competition.
But, all agree, they have never been in enough of a “wreck” to make them want to quit bull riding. In August, the team all competed at the Future Pro Bull Riders of America’s Regional Finals, held in Granbury. The boys compete in Region I which includes an area west to Abilene, north to Wichita Falls and as far south as Cleburne and Stephenville. Region two includes residents of Oklahoma.
What drives each young cowboy to climb back into the chute time and again? There was no doubt in their answers — all for on and one for all.
“You do it because you want to,” Austin said, adding that when you get bucked off, you get back on because you have lost one, and that pushes you to try again.
The “Extreme Team” knows that it’s not all glory all the time. The bulls sometimes get the better of each of them, but they all have a bull they like another shot at riding again. Jacob claims he’s taken a chance gain on AK Bucking Bull’s “Saturday Night Special.” Taylor wants to climb aboard No. 19, owned by Mike Young. Austin wants No. 29 out of Young’s string as well. Mike Young lets the kids have a buck-out weekly that allows the boys to practice on a regular basis.
The Toves boys’ mother, Donna, wasn’t always a fan of the sport.
“I said ‘no’ for four years. The boys’ response was ‘Dad did it, why can’t we?’” she said.
Toves’ father, Tony, competed at open rodeos and the boys use that as an inspiration for their future.
Both sets of parents agree that bull riding is giving their boys something to aspire to.
“Every man has to have something he takes pride in and being able to do what you love and make a living at it is something not many people get to do,” Tony said.
The boys competed previously in the Central Texas Youth Rodeo Association. They prefer to enter in the bull riding association because it is just that - bull riding only. They will, though, join and compete in the Texas High School Rodeo Association this year.
Austin’s honors include winning the region in Jr. Bulls in the average and the year-end. Taylor has won the year for Senior Steer Riding, PeeWee Bull riding, the average in the regional finals for PeeWee bull. In May he won the Red River Showdown in the Senior Steer Riding and the PeeWee bull riding.
The Future Pro Bull Riders of America World Finals was held over the weekend in Granbury, although the Extreme Team’s placings were unavailable at press time.