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KIMBERLY — McCall Hopkins will not be alone when he receives his diploma Thursday.

Hopkins’ younger brother, Rowdy, died in a November crash. Hopkins said that when he hears his name called during Kimberly High School’s graduation, Rowdy will be there with him.

“I know Rowdy will be happy, even though Rowdy thought I was kind of stupid,” Hopkins said with a grin.

Hopkins and his brother were inseparable best friends who frequented rodeos together.

“Rowdy loved fun just as much I did. There was never a dull moment between us,” Hopkins said.

They had been together just before Hopkins found out his brother was in the hospital. When he learned about the crash, “it was just draining,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins sat by his brother’s side until Rowdy eventually passed on Nov. 27. The idea of a rodeo family was reinforced during that time, he said.

“If it could have been both of us, we would have had to rent the Minidome,” he said of the support his family received from the community the day after the accident. More than 900 people attended Rowdy’s funeral.

Hopkins missed 32 days of school while he stayed with his brother in the hospital.

Returning to school was a challenge, but he knew he his brother would not have wanted him to sulk. Hopkins didn’t want special treatment and intended to earn the diploma for himself. He’d worked for everything else in life, he said, and has the words “born to succeed” tattooed across his collarbone.

“I wanted to show them I can do it,” Hopkins said. “I’m not just going to sit back and let them hand me the diploma. I’m going to do the work.”

Heather Hendren, Hopkins mom and a teacher at Kimberly High School, said she was proud of him for being willing to finish school, knowing some days it’s hard to even get out of bed.

It’s heartbreaking, she said.

“He tries to be so strong for me,” Hendren said. “You want to make it right for your kids.”

Hopkins will attend Colorado Northwestern Community College next year to study agriculture business. He hopes to take over his grandfather’s cattle farm in Mud Lake. A third place finish in saddle bronc at the state rodeo and a nationals appearance allowed Hopkins to secure a rodeo scholarship.

Rodeo is a passion for Hopkins and something he and Rowdy did together. Getting back to the sport they loved was hard knowing his brother was not there to lead out his horse.

“I don’t look at who is heading them out, I just know that Rowdy’s got this one for me.”

In one of his first rodeos following his brother’s death, Hopkins got the chance to ride Rowdy’s favorite bull, Outlaw. There were tears streaming down his face before the ride “knowing that was the bull Rowdy dreamed to get on,” he said.

And for that ride, and every ride after, Rowdy is there with him, Hopkins said.

“Not only is God looking down on me now, but God and my best friend. Those are the two people I have when I get on those bulls.”

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