Desmon “Dez” Johnson just might be the most famous breakaway contract personnel you’ve never heard of, and in 2022, he has cracked out in the big leagues as the calf pusher for the 2022 National Finals Breakaway Roping.
Johnson, 25, of Huntsville, Texas, has perhaps the hardest job at the entire event, crouching behind the black Mundorf calves run after run, insuring the fresh calves give the ladies a clean, sharp start every run. He then hops up out of the chute after each run to load the next calf, doing it all over again 75 times a day Nov. 29-30 in the South Point Hotel & Casino.
“I’ve always been a team player,” Johnson said. “The biggest thing—I would have never thought I’d be helping at a big event like this. But when you’re locked in, you’re locked in.”
Thanks, Joe B.
Johnson has been working for eight-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Joe Beaver since he was a kid, helping at the legend’s junior calf ropings.
“Me and my brother went and got Joe’s and Fred’s (Whitfield’s) autographs at the feed store once, and we talked to them,” Johnson said. “I’m best friends with John Douch, and he’d go to Joe’s and rope. One day he said he was going, and I said I was going with him. He said, ‘No, Joe doesn’t like too many people out there.’ But I said I was going anyway. And from then on Joe and Jenna have treated me like family. They helped me through college and everything.”
Johnson goes along with his crew of 15 guys to help Beaver at his events throughout the year, setting up and tearing down arenas, pushing calves and working the chutes. They’re on call 24/7 for the event to do whatever needs done—perhaps over-preparing Johnson to push in the WPRA.
“You’ll be at a jackpot you have to push so many and you can’t tell your friends no,” Johnson said. “So being here, it’s like a normal day at a jackpot helping.”
After years of helping at the junior and local calf ropings, Johnson got a call from a friend that famed Chute Boss John Gwatney was needing a pusher at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo in February 2022. Beaver told his calf-pushing prodigy to seize the opportunity, because the Gwatneys would treat him like family.
“I pushed all the timed event cattle there for 21 perfs,” Johnson, who has a degree from Warton Junior College in ag business, said. “It was 40 head per night, and a couple matinee performances. I guess John liked my work, because he’s been keeping me around.”
So when Gwatney had to put his crew together for the NFBR, he had to have Dez in the chute to keep his production top quality.
For Johnson, pushing calves is all about feel.
“You can’t anticipate the gates,” Johnson said. “If you anticipate the gates, you can jam that calf on the gate and when she nods, he stalls, and everyone’s looking back at you like ‘What was that?’ When them gates bang, you don’t have to drive him out, you just help him out.”
And for the ladies of the NFBR, having Dez in the chute is a huge confidence booster.
“I think he tries hard for everyone, and he knows what he’s doing,” Shelby Boisjoli, who currently leads the NFBR aggregate with a time of 12.4-seconds on five head. “He did a great job at San Antonio too.”
Lari Dee Guy—the eight-time Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world champ who’s knocked all five calves down in 24.3 seconds—agrees: “I believe Dez gives us 110% every time.”
Paying It Forward
This NFBR experience is a chance for Johnson to give back—showing his long-time mentors that their efforts and investments in him weren’t all for naught.
“When I was 16, a guy named Poppa Calhoun started helping me all through life and showing me the right way of being positive and staying motivated,” Johnson said. “And he built me up to be a sharp young man, and this is mainly about staying true to yourself and being honest really. Poppa has been a big influence, him and John Atkinson. They all helped me and I want them to let them know their time wasn’t wasted as far as helping me when I was a kid.”
Johnson answers ‘I hustle’ when asked what he does for a living, but in truth he runs a mobile detailing service, loan service, firewood-splitting operation and works at ropings and sale barns in his free time. He ropes calves and double mugs and ranch rodeos, but the end goal for him is to work the timed event chutes at the National Finals Rodeo someday. And hopefully, as part of that gig, he’ll be pushing the breakaway calves in the Thomas & Mack, too.