SPOTLIGHT: After quite a debut at LSU, Duhon traded helmet for hat and found fame

LSU’s LOSS, RODEO’S GAIN: Steve Duhon instantly made an impact as a true freshman linebacker at LSU but decided his future was on horseback, a path that carried him to worldwide fame and enshrinement last Saturday in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Steve Duhon grew up on the rodeo circuit, found himself playing football at Tiger Stadium, and despite a productive true freshman season on coach Jerry Stovall’s LSU squad, quickly realized he was best suited for a cowboy hat and jeans, not shoulder pads and a helmet.

Duhon was among the 12-member Class of 2022 inducted last weekend in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame during festivities in and around the LSHOF museum in Natchitoches.

Like many Louisiana boys, the Opelousas native grew up an LSU fan, although he didn’t entertain serious interest in playing for the Tigers. But after he ran for over 3,300 yards and made 148 tackles as a linebacker in his senior season in 1980, and won all-state honors for a third straight season at Belmont Academy, college recruiters finally began to notice. He was an honorable mention All-American.

LSU assistant Bishop Harris helped convince Duhon to give Tiger football a try. He made an instant impression as a backup linebacker and special teams player, posting 19 tackles in 1981 as a true freshman. He broke his shoulder in the seventh game but played on, showing the toughness of – yes, a rodeo cowboy.

“You can’t get anything done watching,” he said while in Natchitoches. “I’d been banged up in rodeo, so playing through it was second nature for me.”

But the following April, Duhon realized his true love was not the thrill of playing in front of a packed Tiger Stadium, but being on the back of a horse in a rodeo arena, which he had done almost since he could walk, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother. So he strode into Stovall’s office and said it was best if he left LSU football and put his full focus on chasing the rodeo dream.

“I walked into Broussard Hall for preseason, and there’s Leonard Marshall, the defensive tackle (and a future LSHOF inductee after a long career with the New York Giants) who seemed like was 6-8 and 325, and I weighed 195 dripping wet. I thought, ‘Hey, I can play behind a guy like that.’

“That was fun. But I knew in my bones my place was in rodeo, and if I was gonna get where I wanted to be, making a living at it, I needed to get going that direction,” said Duhon, who now lives on a farm near Jasper, Texas.

Leaving LSU was the right move for him.

While starring first in baseball, which he had to give up so he could compete in high school rodeo at the same time of year, Duhon showed at Belmont Academy he was no ordinary cowboy. He was a 1980 and 1981 state champion steer wrestler and the 1981 national high school reserve champion cowboy.

His pro career took off in 1985, when he won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Resistol Rookie of the Year Award. Continuing success carried him to the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame (inducted in 2003) and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (Class of 2018). Duhon won three world championships (1986, 1987 and 1993) as a steer wrestler and qualified for the National Finals Rodeo eight times.

A world record run of 3.0 seconds set at the National Finals Rodeo in 1986 shocked neither Duhon nor those who befriended and competed against him.

“Steve had ice water in his veins,” fellow cowboy and competitor Tody Roach said. “The more pressure, the better he liked it. He made most his fame and fortune in the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association as a steer wrestler, but there are a lot of people, like calf ropers and team ropers, who are glad he didn’t hone in on those events.”

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