Dustin Elliott, a 1999 graduate of Grant Union High School, will be inducted into the Chadron State College Athletic Hall of Fame this fall.
The ceremonies will be at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, following the Eagles’ football game.
Elliott came to Chadron State, located in northwestern Nebraska, after winning the Oregon high school rodeo bull riding championship, was the College National Finals Rodeo bull riding winner as a sophomore and the Pro Rodeo Cowboys’ Association champion just one year after concluding his collegiate career.
He now lives with his wife, Cynthia, and their twins, Ethan and Emma, in North Platte, Nebraska, where he owns some ranch land, has haying and trucking businesses and coaches the rodeo team at the local community college.
Elliott was recruited by Chadron State’s rodeo coach Darrell Marshall during the National High School Rodeo in Gillette, Wyoming.
“He was the only college coach to really talk to me there,” Elliott recalled several years later. “He was willing to take a chance on me. He offered me a $500 scholarship each semester. That was enough to bring me to Chadron State. I’ve always been happy I made that decision.”
As a freshman, Elliott finished fourth in the Central Rocky Mountain Region bull riding standings. That didn’t qualify him for the College National Finals Rodeo, but it did get him invited to be among the 40 entries in the Overland Stagecoach Invitational Bull Riding in Monahans, Texas, that summer. He finished second in that competition, winning more than $4,000, a lot of money for a college kid in those days.
The next year, Elliott qualified for the national finals by placing second in the region’s standings and then won the championship at the college finals in Casper, Wyoming. He was the only entry among the 48 national qualifiers to stay aboard all four of his bulls the required eight seconds. Ironically, it was the first time he had won his pet event at a college rodeo, although he’d often been second or third.
The finals rodeo was exciting. He scored 79 points on Copenhagen Durango, the high mark of the rodeo entering the finals. But it was touch and go whether he had made the eight-second whistle. When the judges gave the thumbs-up signal, Elliott sailed his big black hat high into the Casper Events Center’s rafters.
During the championship go-round, the capacity crowd was so loud when Elliott rode his fourth bull that he stayed aboard for at least 10 seconds because he could not hear the whistle.
His winnings included $2,100 in prize money, a $1,500 scholarship to continue his education at Chadron State, a saddle, a hat, a belt buckle, a pair of boots, a bull rope, a vest and a ring.
Elliott also qualified for the CNFR the next two years. While he did not place at the finals either time, he continued to ride well. Besides, another CSC bull rider, Will Farrell of Thermopolis, Wyoming, won the championship in 2002, meaning Chadron State entries had won three national titles in four years. Farrell also won the event as a freshman in 1998.
Farrell will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Oct. 27.
During his collegiate career, Elliott rode 47 of the 77 bulls he drew. He also frequently competed at other rodeos. Just a few days before he and Cynthia, whom he met at CSC, were married in May 2003, he scored 84 points to win the bull riding and earn $2,156 at a PRCA rodeo in Kansas City.
That encouraged him to hit the big time. Just a year after he had concluded his college career, he was the PRCA world champion. He rode an amazing 73 percent of his bulls that year and earned $193,000. The next two years, he rode about 60 percent of the time (40 percent is considered good) and finished fourth in the world standings, earning about $159,000, each year.
One of his big paydays in 2006 was at Frontier Days in Cheyenne, where he scored 91 points in the finals to claim the bull riding title and collect nearly $20,000.
When the twins were born three months prematurely on Christmas Eve 2006, he cut back his travel schedule and became pretty much a full-time dad, particularly after Cynthia returned to teaching business at North Platte High School. That’s why his name disappeared from PRCA’s top 15 list for a few years.
But he made it back to the Wrangler PRCA Finals in Las Vegas in 2010, when he also was a qualifier in the Pro Bull Rider Finals. Only a handful of contestants have qualified for the finals of both in the same year. Elliott also was a PBR finals qualifier four other times.
“I never had any serious injuries,” he said during a phone interview after announcing his retirement from riding bulls in 2013. In the course of the conversation, it came out that he’d broken a few fingers, toes and ribs and his nose a couple of times. He also tore the ACL in a knee and never had it repaired and suspects he’ll need surgery on both shoulders someday. (So far, that’s not been necessary.)
But he’s a happy guy, his voice over the phone indicated.
“I’ve been so fortunate,” he said. “I really never got hurt bad, saw a lot of country, met a lot of neat people and now I’m self-employed and have a great family. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Dustin’s father, Wayne, also was a bull rider. Sadly, he died in a vehicle accident in 2009, but not before he’d seen his son become rodeo legend. His mother, Linda, who works in a gold mine in Battle Mountain, Nevada, plans to retire in a few years and move to Nebraska close to her grandchildren.