Heading into this year’s junior high school rodeo state championship, Colby Yarborough faced a lot of uncertainty.

Yarborough missed a few high school rodeos during the course of the season while he was competing in another series, and was 10th in the points standings heading into the state championship.

By the end of the weekend, though, Yarborough had punched his ticket to South Dakota.

“I was sitting 10th in the all-around and I was only qualifying for nationals in one of my events,” Yarborough said. “Well, at the end of the weekend I ended up qualifying for nationals in all of my events.”

Yarborough, an eighth-grader from Ninety Six, finished second in the state rodeo and was named reserve champion. By finishing top four in five events, he qualified for the Junior High School Finals Rodeo from June 23-29 in Huron, South Dakota. It will be his second trip to Huron for the finals.

In the weeks leading up to the finals, Yarborough is preparing by visiting his friend, Clint Madison, in Kentucky. Yarborough said his parents are picking him up on the the way to South Dakota.

In Kentucky, Yarborough brought his two horses, Sandbar and Quixote, and is competing in rodeos this summer. He said Madison has helped expand his knowledge and ability.

“(Madison has) helped me with my roping, my horse, taught me how when I’m just sitting around I need to be learning,” Yarborough said. “Without my parents, I couldn’t do none of this without them. They paid entry fees, they’ve brought me places.

Outside of rodeo, Yarborough also plays baseball and football and participates in an academic challenge team.

Playing other sports has allowed Yarborough to become more athletic, he said.

“It’s helped me,” Yarborough said. “I’ve learned to become more athletic. There’s some restraints about it. I’m not in the arena every day like I need to be, practicing for rodeo.”

There are many athletic aspects about rodeo, Yarborough said, but most of it comes down to technique.

“I was talking to Clint earlier, and he told me that these younger people out here, they’re athletes and stuff, but if you go back and watch the older people do it, they do it by technique,” Yarborough said. “It’s not all about how athletic you are and how fast you can be. If you slow down and do it right, most of the time you’re going to be faster than you really think you are.”

Yarborough’s mother, Tina Hepler, said she’s seen her son become more confident in his ability as he’s gone through middle school.

“I think he’s gotten way more aggressive with his chute dogging, and he’s gotten more aggressive all the way around,” Hepler said. “He’s a lot more confident with himself. The competition’s a lot harder, but he still sticks right up at the top.”

Yarborough’s best events are team roping and goat-tying. He placed top four in five events, which he will compete in at the finals.

Yarborough will be a high school freshman next fall, so this year will be his last rodeo finals in the junior high division. He welcomes the challenge to improve over four more years.

“Everybody’s going to grow and get better as it goes along,” Yarborough said. “Everyone wants to get better and go out there and win a national title, and that’s what I’m wanting to do too.”

Contact sports writer Skylar Rolstad at 223-1813 or follow him on Twitter @SkyRolSports.