When Ricky Rice made his first leap during a steer wrestling competition as a ninth grader he didn’t envision that he could earn a college scholarship for rodeo.

That changed Thursday.

Rice signed a letter of intent to join the Northeastern Oklahoma A&E (NEO) in Miami, Okla., rodeo team in the fall at a ceremony held Thursday at Cedarville High School.

"I was just doing something that I love," said Rice. "I have friends that wanted to play football or basketball, but I wanted to do rodeo.

"Now, I get to do it in college and have a scholarship to go along with it."

Rice, son of Rick and Treva Rice, earned his first national championship in steer wrestling at the National High School Rodeo event last summer. He was also the state high school champion in 2012. Rice has qualified all three years he’s competed at the high school level for the regional finals and has been ranked among the Top 4 in the state.

Rice was the state champion calf roper in junior high.

"He called me," said NEO rodeo coach Kolby Ungeheuer. "I reviewed some video of him and heard from some others about what he’s accomplished. (Rice) has already achieved a high level and I think he can be competitive on the college level.

"We’re excited to have him join us." The current NEO rodeo team consists of 50 participants, who are trying to qualify for this year’s college nationals. "We’re going to have him focus on steer wrestling, but he’s said he wants to do some team roping," Ungeheuer said. "So, it’ll be good to have him working a couple events."

Rice, who is from Natural Dam, began competitive rodeo when he was in seventh grade and started steer wrestling the summer before his freshman year.

Rice has the high school state finals which begin on June 5 in Texarkana. The national finals start July 14 in Rock Springs, Wyo.