FORT WORTH, Texas - Odessa is not the most attractive city in West Texas.
Founded in 1881 as a cattle-shipping point along the Texas and Pacific Railway, in recent years Odessa became famous for Texas high school football - namely the Permian Panthers, who were made famous in the "Friday Night Lights" biography published in 1990.
By the late 1980s, the Odessa College rodeo team had become a national powerhouse of sorts.
When an 18-year-old Ty Murray got a call from Jim Watkins recruiting the Arizona teen to replace college standout Jim Sharp on the Odessa rodeo team, Murray packed his bags and headed to West Texas.
"Jim was my hero," Murray said.
"A great example would be if you were an outstanding high school quarterback and you were looking at Colt McCoy when he was playing (college football) for Texas."
Murray saw Sharp at the College National Finals on TV and again at the National Finals Rodeo.
Murray, who in 1987 was the National High School All-Around Champion, and Sharp knew of one another, but the two never actually met until Murray made his on-campus visit and Coach Watkins asked Sharp to show him around campus.
The two hit it off and have been best friends ever since.
According to Murray, who went on to win nine world titles during his professional career, 90 percent of the reason he chose Odessa College was to follow the same path as Sharp. The remaining 10 percent was evenly split between the program Watkins had built and the sports center on campus, which, at the time, featured a state-of-art training facility.
Watkins intended to win a national title and so did Murray.
Murray attended Odessa College from the fall of 1988 through the spring semester of 1990.
He was the National Rookie of the Year as a freshman and claimed three national titles as a sophomore when he won the bull riding, saddle bronc and all-around titles. He finished second in the nation in bareback and Odessa College claimed the national team title.
"(Jim) was my hero." - Ty Murray
In fact, Murray scored more points at College National Finals than the entire second place team.
More than 20 years later, Murray credits his success to emulating what he saw whenever he watched and later traveled with Sharp.
"He was the guy that I thought was the very best," said Murray, who described Sharp as one of the most competitive athletes he had been around.
Sharp was not only physically a great athlete; what made him stand out was his calm, cool and collected demeanor. He mentally kept his composure regardless of the task at hand, and Murray wanted to be just like that.
"I don't even think it was an ability," Murray said, when talking about Sharp's mental approach to bull riding. "I think it's a personality type that he was born with, but he was the coolest competitor to this day that I've ever seen. I thought he rode the best, I thought he looked the best and I didn't think anybody really compared to him."
Murray arrived on campus at the same time author H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger moved to town to chronicle the Panthers in what would eventually become the best-selling book "Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream."
Secluded and remote, Odessa was not only the home of Ratliff Stadium - one of the largest high school stadiums in the state of Texas - and a college rodeo team that had risen to national prominence, but also a college basketball team that won a lot of games thanks to future NBA standout Larry Johnson.
Johnson and Murray became friends.
He would attend basketball games - "it was like watching a man play with 10-year-olds" - and Johnson would attend Murray's college rodeo events.
The back-to-back era featuring Sharp and Murray wasn't the end of Watkins' success.
He also recruited three other PBR co-founders, including Jerome Davis along with Gilbert and Adam Carrillo.
In addition to the year Murray's team won a national title, the Odessa College Wrangler's men's rodeo team has accounted for 11 national event titles, 13 regional titles and more than 50 former members have gone on to compete professionally in the PBR and PRCA.
More than 20 years later, Murray and Sharp still keep in touch with Coach Watkins. Murray said he speaks with him about once year and also maintains a friendship with Watkins' son Todd, who is a commanding officer in the Navy.
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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