FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — By his own admission, Cody Emerson wasn't much of a high school basketball player.

"Honestly, I played basketball in the winter just to have something to do," Emerson said. "My high school team was really good, so I was just there to help them with practice. During the games, they (coaches) let all the good guys plays."

Emerson, who piddled around the high school rodeo scene in Jonesboro, riding calves and steers, was in Fort Smith recently as part of the 85th Old Fort Days Rodeo helping keep bull riding cowboys safe. The rodeo wrapped up with final rodeo performances and the freestyle bullfighting finals.

The bullfighter's job is to keep the bull rider out of harm's way in the rodeo arena and put his life on the line for a fallen cowboy.

Bullfighters aren't born to dodge bulls. Well, not all of them.

One day, around Thanksgiving 2007, to be exact, Emerson signed up for bull fighting school.

"When I was in high school, I rode calves and steers, and everything down there, there's not a lot," Emerson said. "My dad was a calf roper, but when I graduated from high school I had always wanted to be a clown and a bull fighter. I saw an ad in a magazine for bull fighting school. I thought, 'I'm going to go to that bull fighting school and see if I like to do that.'

"Since then, I've been blessed to make a career out of it."

The Frank Newsom bullfighting school was pretty basic.

"Three days," Emerson said with a deadpan look on his face. "They teach you the very basic stuff you need to know to get around a bull. I went over the Thanksgiving holiday."

It didn't take long for Emerson to get his foot in the door.

"It just blew up after that," he said. "I've got a lot of good rodeos now, and I've been in the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) long enough to become pretty well known. With some older guys retiring, it lets some of the younger guys get in there.

"Once you get in there with good rodeos, you get to stay and kind of make a family out of it."

Emerson is on the road between 175 and 200 days a year, the Southwest Times Record reported .

"This year has been my busiest year so far," he said. "It's just getting better and better, because I'm getting more well known.

"The thing about the PRCA bullfighting, everybody watches that, so they're (PRCA) are like, 'We need to get him out there to protect the cowboys.'

"I've been fighting bulls for 12 years."

Emerson's favorite event?

"We should say Fort Smith this week," he said with a grin. "Honestly, with bullfights, Salinas, California, is my favorite. The bullfights kind of died down until a few years ago, but in Salinas, it's been going since the '80s. They have their own little trailer; they truck the bulls out there from the trailer to the track. In my opinion, nobody steps up like Salinas."

Treading on 30, Emerson, who now calls Marble Falls, Texas, home, believes he can fight bulls for another 10 to 15 years.

"If you stay in shape, and you're sharp on your skills, you can go until you're 40 or 45," he said. "I know of some older guys like Chad Doughty, he's plenty capable. I'm almost 30 and I've had thoughts of getting out of the freestyle bullfights, just because the kids (bullfighters) these days are so good.

"It's harder to win because there are so many awesome guys out there."

"It's definitely something you need to be confident in with what you're about to do," he said. "They (rodeo circuits) don't really kick you out as long as you handle the business part of it."

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Information from: Southwest Times Record, http://www.swtimes.com/