FRUITLAND PARK — The wide brim of a cowboy hat casts a shadow across Clayton Sellars' face.
His brown leather vest, chaps and boots with spurs on the back complete a look that could be seen in any Wild West movie.
Sellars, a high-school sophomore, plays football and baseball at Leesburg. As one of the nation's best bull riders for his age, his third sport comes to him as naturally as his soft southern drawl.
"It seems normal really," said Sellars, who hails from a family of rodeo competitors. "I don't know any different."
Sellars will be the only area rider competing in the National High School Finals Rodeo, beginning Monday in Wyoming. He qualified after placing in the top four at the Florida High School Rodeo Association state finals two months ago in Davie.
About 150 high-schoolers competed in the FHSRA this year. Sellars was among 15 bull riders, a group that included South Sumter sophomore Brady Barnes and Kissimmee Osceola senior Moses Fleming. Like Sellars, they play football.
Sellars introduced Barnes to bull riding about five years ago.
"It's about as much adrenaline as jumping out of an airplane," Barnes said. "I get excited, have fun.''
Said Sellars: "It's blurry, fast . . . It's a rush. There's nothing like it."
Sellars' father, Brady, rode bulls, and his brother, Austin, 22, and sister, Morgan, 19, competed in rodeo at Troy University. That Alabama school offered scholarships for the sport before discontinuing the program this year. No Florida universities offer scholarships for rodeo.
Sellars started small, riding calves when he was 6 years old, before graduating to full-sized bulls. Wearing a helmet, he mounts the bull inside a small gated area called a chute. He loops a single, braided rope around the bull, ties it around his hand and holds on for as long as he can.
"The main muscle you use is in your head," Sellars said. "It's a 98 percent mental game. Two percent talent. You've got to want it, and you've got to like it. It's not something you're going to do if you don't love it."
Each rider must stay on the bull, which normally weighs about 1,500 pounds, for at least eight seconds to earn a score. Contestants are judged on a scale of zero to 100, based on form and how much the bull bucked.
Sellars placed 10th at nationals last year.
"He has long legs, is an athletic kid and has a lot of determination. A lot of grit," Brady Sellars said. "Where he might be short in talent, he makes up for in determination."
At Leesburg, not many of Clayton's classmates understand the sport, and Sellars often is asked questions about how long he stays on and whether he is scared. He admits he gets nervous at times, but the thrill is worth it.
And playing football has benefited him on the rodeo circuit.
"I don't know that bull riding helps with football, but football definitely helps in rodeo, all the conditioning, training and weightlifting,'' Sellars said. "You get bigger faster and stronger and that definitely helps."
Sellars' chest has been stepped on by a bull, and he has broken his collarbone. Barnes said injuries can happen anywhere, though.
"You could break a leg in football, or you could get stepped on by a bull and break your leg," Barnes said.
Like his siblings, Sellars hopes to earn a college education through rodeo.
"[I want to go] somewhere out west," he said. "I haven't looked at any schools yet. I have to win nationals first."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun