GRAND ISLAND, Neb. – Since the day he was born, Sage Seay has been an athlete.
Proof existed through his childhood, where he was the MVP as a senior at Nederland (Texas) High School just outside Beaumont. His exploits landed him a football scholarship at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, a stone’s throw from his home in Hackberry, Louisiana.
He no longer hunts down quarterbacks or tackles receivers; he’s in a more devastating game than football ever allowed, but he’s using his background to his advantage as one of the premier athletes in the Ultimate Bullfighters organization.
“I really believe football actually helps me out now with training, the mental game and how I break down film to get better,” said Seay, 24, the No. 1 man in the UBF standings. “I taught myself how to fight bulls by watching film and just experiencing it through trial and error. The first bull I ever fought was at a fair in Sulphur, Louisiana, and I had no idea what I was doing.
“I just envisioned that I was the running back and he was the linebacker, and I just ran away from him. Over time, I’ve learned the art of the game of freestyle bullfighting and have just loved it.”
He and 17 other men will show off their skills at the Pump & Pantry Ultimate Bullfighter competition, set for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Thompson Food Open Air Arena at Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island.
“It’s going to be damn good, and I’m ready for it,” Seay said. “To square up to a bull for a minute, and that bull has a shot to kill you, it doesn’t get any better than that. I’m not there for that bull to fight me. I’m there to fight that SOB. He’s going to get everything I’ve got. I want that bull to know when I leave that arena that he’ll never want to see me again.”
It’s a fighter’s mentality that’s part of Seay’s outlook on life. He shined in football and was a versatile athlete at Nederland High. As a junior, he played strong safety and receiver, two positions that rely heavily on athleticism. As a senior, he took over as the team’s quarterback and was named the most valuable player for District 22-5A and area newspapers in Port Arthur, Texas, and Beaumont.
“I actually had nothing to do with rodeo growing up,” he said. “I played football my whole life. My dad rodeoed, and my brother rodeoed a little bit, and we always grew up working cows. I lived right across the state line with my mom; we lived there during the school year and lived in Hackberry in the summer.
“I blew my knee out my sophomore season at McNeese, and they just wrote me off. I went to six or seven doctors, and they said I was pretty much done. I got in with Dr. (James) Andrews in Pensacola (Florida) and had a four-and-a-half-hour surgery. He repaired everything.”
That was just the start. It was followed by months of intensive rehabilitation, defined by his will to improve. That’s what it takes to return to excellence after having a joint rebuilt, and there was no stopping Seay after that.
“As I was going through rehab, I wasn’t ready to hang up the cleats yet, and freestyle bullfighting came across my Facebook feed,” he said. “I got a shot, and I took it. In October, it will be two years since I got into bullfighting.”
He’s matured quite rapidly in a sport that was rather foreign to him just a few seasons ago. It’s not a game for the timid either. Bullfighters match their skills against agile and aggressive bulls. Bouts are a minute long, but only the fit and fanatical are able to survive. It takes months of training one’s body to prepare for what bullfighters experience in that 60 seconds.
“We don’t have to do this; we get to do this,” Seay said. “It’s fun, but it’s a job. When you stop having fun, especially in this sport, I believe your done.
“When I take a good shot, I get ticked off. I want to get back in the middle of the ring, square that sucker up and give him everything I have left. You’re going to win or lose. You’re not going to win every one of them, and that’s the consequence I’m willing to pay.”