STEPHENVILLE, Texas – Jace Melvin has known no other way. In a sense, he was born to be a professional rodeo cowboy, and he thrives in this environment.
All roads have pointed to him being considered one of the best, and that’s the case in the 2020 ProRodeo campaign. Melvin earned $46,225 through the regular season and has earned his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualification. He sits seventh in the steer wrestling world standings heading into this year’s championship, set for Dec. 3-12 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
“This is a dream come true,” said Melvin, originally from Fort Pierre, South Dakota, but now living in Stephenville. “I’ve worked my whole life for this and for my family, friends and loved ones that helped me get to this point.”
Melvin was raised around this sport. He’s an all-around cowboy, but his excellence in steer wrestling has pushed him to be more individually focused on a single event much of the season. It all goes back to the lessons learned through the grueling summers and harsh winters in South Dakota, where family was always the biggest piece of life’s pie.
“I remember being on a horse all the time,” he said. “I was super blessed. My mom and my dad’s house was right down the hill from my (paternal) grandma and grandpa, Willie and Delores Melvin. All of them did so much to help me.”
He recalled being around 10 or 11 years old and wanting to compete at a 12-under tie-down roping event. Trouble was, while he had competed in breakaway roping, he had never tied a calf down. His grandfather went to the sale barn, purchased a bottle calf, and Melvin had something to practice on.
“I’d load this calf, then I’d rope it,” he said. “I’d bring it right back, and we’d load it again.
“I never knew my grandpa on my mom’s side, but both my grandmas were super supportive and grew up in the Western lifestyle, ran calves and rode horses. That’s all I ever wanted to do. I was fortunate to have my mom and dad, my grandpa and my grandmas to support the way of life I wanted. They always motivated me to go for my goals and take care of what I wanted to accomplish.”
So, when he followed in the footsteps of older sisters Jessica and Jenny into rodeo, it was a no-brainer for the family to follow him with the same encouragement.
“It’s so important, because rodeoing is hard,” Melvin said. “You spend a lot of money, spend a lot of time. It’s just a constant struggle to get where you want to go. Never in my life have I had anyone tell me I needed to do something different. Since we’ve been together, Amy has supported my goal.”
That’s Amy Kay, to whom Melvin is engaged. In addition to her being another support system, they seem to match together quite well. And to think that the two would have never met had he not stepped outside is comfort zone to move to Texas to attend college – first to Vernon College, then to Tarleton State University in Stephenville.
“I actually wanted to stay closer to home to go to college,” he said. “Both my sisters went to college in Texas. Jessica went to Texas Tech to rodeo there, and she was the masked rider for the football team. Jenny went to a junior college in Texas. But when I went to the high school finals as a freshman, I met Bobby Scott, who was the rodeo coach at Vernon.
“He said, ‘When you graduate, I’m going to give you a full scholarship, and I want you to come rodeo for me.’ He held up his end of the bargain.”
When he transferred to Stephenville, Melvin learned to be more proficient in team roping and tie-down roping. He earned three qualifications to the College National Finals Rodeo while there; two in steer wrestling and one in tie-down roping. He was one of the reasons why the Tarleton State men’s team won the national title in his senior season of 2015.
For several years, he’s made a name for himself as an all-around cowboy. The focus to steer wrestling came a year ago, when he finished 24th in the standings. He progressed even more this year and is one of just 15 men who will battle for the world championship at Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers and the 2020 World Series.
“I bought my (PRCA) card five years ago; my goal was to make the NFR my rookie year, then my goal was to make it every year,” said Melvin, who credits his sponsors – Wrangler, Resistol, Ag Texas, Purina, Classic Equine, Rockin JM Livestock, Three Flat Energy and Equimedic – for helping him get up and down the rodeo trail.
“I don’t regret the years leading up to this one. Every year has been a building block. I’ve honed my skills, and it’s all led up to this. Hopefully I can sustain this and keep it going. I hope to be at a position that I can maintain a high level of consistency and have steady success from here on out.”
He proved it in what might be the toughest year to find success in ProRodeo. The year started as normal with big-money opportunities at large indoor rodeos, then the COVID-19 global pandemic knocked everything off kilter. Fear gripped not only the nation, but many nations, and people were isolated for weeks at a time.
When rodeo returned, the opportunities were fewer; more than half the typical ProRodeos across North America were canceled, including some of the biggest in the game. Melvin and his traveling posse – Cody Devers and four-time NFR qualifier Jule Hazen – went to work to make sure everything came out as well as possible.
“It was unique,” Melvin said. “Rodeos seem to be somewhat clustered most years. With all the cancelations and rescheduling, you might have two rodeos on a weekend, then four the next. With Jule and Cody, and with Bridger Anderson joining us at the end of the year, it was really easy traveling with those guys.
“A lot of times, the miles and the time spent together is what wears on a group and as an individual, but they’re just really fun to travel with. Everything was really light and really positive. It seemed like one or two of us were picking up checks all the time, and that kept the whole rig motivated”
Hazen, Melvin and Anderson all earned trips to the NFR, and Devers finished 18th, just three spots out of the magical number to earn a qualification. Nonetheless, he’ll reunite with all of them once they arrive in Arlington. Melvin plans to ride Hazen’s horse with Hazen serving as Melvin’s hazer to help keep the steer lined out during Melvin’s runs; Devers will take on that role for Hazen when it’s the Kansas cowboy’s turn.
“My horse and my team are ready to go,” Melvin said of the bulldogging and hazing horses he owns and puts in competition together when the opportunities allow. “I want to have mine if needed, but Jule’s little mare just fits me well. I feel like that mare is going to give me every opportunity to win.”
With everything organized and the opportunity of his lifetime right in front of him, the South Dakota cowboy can’t wait to see what’s in store for him during those magnificent December nights at Globe Life Field.
“I’m looking forward to everything that’s going to come my way, but what I’m looking forward to most is running 10 head of those steers and seeing how well I can run them,” he said. “You’re going to run one every night for 10 straight days. How good are you, and how good can you be?”
He may not have the answers yet, but he will soon.