Sept. 29, 2007
By Holly Laubacher
When Chad Macklin signed up to be a Husky football player five years ago, he left behind a world of horses, roping and rodeos. He talks about his hometown passion today, however, as if he left it only days ago.
Macklin, a six-foot, eight-inch, 300-pound offensive tackle for the Huskies, grew up in the small town of Visalia, California. A country town about 40 miles south of Fresno, the city of Visalia is mostly known for its agricultural industry. Macklin's family lives on a ranch a few hundred acres large, growing table grapes and walnuts.
It was on this ranch that Chad's father introduced him to team roping. At first, Macklin didn't want anything to do with it. He and his brother worked at roping events, but didn't even consider taking up the sport until they were teenagers.
"We always had to get everything ready for everyone else to rope. We thought, `why don't we just rope with them? Then we don't have to do the work.'"
The obsession began, and Macklin roped all the way through his senior year of high school.
"We would rope every single night after football practice in high school. We would team rope with my dad. All of my dad's friends would come over, kind of like a little party every night."
Luckily the boys didn't have to travel far to practice their craft; Macklin's dad ripped out a few acres of grapes and put in a roping area, complete with stables, directly behind the house.
"Saturdays and Sundays were an all-day deal. People would come over in the morning, we'd barbeque in the afternoon, then rope again or go to a roping competition at night. You know everyone there and everyone there is your friend."
At Macklin's size, finding a horse big enough to fit his gigantic body was almost as much of a sport as the actual roping.
"The horse I rode was about as big as they get," he says. "He was about sixteen-and-a-half hands. That's a really big horse; one of the biggest you'd see at a rodeo. Just to make me look normal! Otherwise it would almost look like my feet were dragging on the ground. They almost were actually on the horse I started roping on."
After high school, Macklin and his big frame decided to put away the roping gear and focus on football. One name in particular made the transition a lot easier.
On Macklin's recruiting trip to Washington, Cody Pickett introduced himself. Known to most as Washington's starting quarterback, Pickett was familiar to Macklin because of Pickett's father.
"Dee Pickett is one of the most famous team ropers there is. One of the saddles that I ride is a Dee Pickett signature saddle. Like Michael Jordan has his signature shoes, he has a saddle for team roping. That was my saddle."
Macklin says with a smile, "That made me like Washington even more."
Although the rodeo has taken a backseat to football since Macklin arrived at Washington, he does still take the opportunity to go to a rodeo whenever he can. Rodeos aren't a familiar sight in Seattle, however. To see a rodeo, Macklin makes the trip out to Eastern Washington or down to the Puyallup fair. He goes because he loves the sport, but mostly to see a familiar face.
"I know a lot of people in the professional rodeo circuit. A lot of them are from the Central Valley or I've met them through other people. I can relate to them, I know that they're regular guys."
Regular guys that Macklin can't compete with - for now at least.Not only is football his main priority, leaving little time to compete in rodeos, roping is a dangerous business.
"In team roping, you can get hurt pretty badly. It's really common for people to cut their fingers off. If the steer's running one way and you're running the other, the rope can cut right through your hand. Also, you're riding a horse. Most of them are pretty calm, but they can buck you off if you don't warm them up right. They've got a mind of their own."
So for now, Macklin is leaving team roping up to the professionals. "I'm sticking strictly to football while I'm up here."
And while he misses home, roping and the small community atmosphere, Macklin says he chose Washington because he wanted to get out of the country.
"Seattle to me was a big city, but when you go out of the city, there are little towns and communities all around. I like that."
Macklin, a fifth-year senior, is only 15 credits shy of graduating with a degree in Land Use and Development. Though he used to be an Economics major, Macklin decided to create his own major which would help him more in life after football.
"My dad owns an agricultural real estate company. That's what I grew up around, so I'd like to do something like that."
But that's all in the future. For now, Macklin and his UW teammates face one of the toughest schedules of the college football season.
"[The Ohio State game] opened our eyes to the fact that they're one of these great teams that consistently plays in National Championship games...and we could've beat them."
Macklin credits the seeming turnaround of the Husky football program to the coaches and players alike.
"This year, everyone's buying into the program. Everyone's working together. Coach works really hard on making us work as a team, putting team before self. I think everyone always said they did that, but I don't believe that people actually bought into it. Now I think they really are."
"Everyone in the Pac-10 is looking pretty tough. But so are we. I think we can get them."
As much as Macklin enjoys reminiscing about his team roping past, he seems pretty excited about the Huskies' future.