Kody West will stand on stage tonight with two repaired knee ligaments, a guitar and a music career that started as soon as his football days were over.
Seven months after he left the football program at Ryan High School and after he first stepped into the country music scene, West joins the many talented acts at this year’s North Texas Fair and Rodeo. West will play twice during the nine-day event at the North Texas Fairgrounds, 2217 N. Carroll Blvd.
When he was younger, West used to hang around backstage at the fair with his stepfather, waiting to see his favorite acts. Now, people will be in the crowd waiting for him.
“All of this has just happened so fast,” West said. “I never thought I would be doing stuff like this six months ago.”
West is scheduled to play at 6 p.m. today and is one of the acts playing before Kevin Fowler hits the main stage. One of the other acts is Dusty Smirl, a former Ryan baseball standout who graduated in 2004. West also will play next Saturday night along with Smirl and Ryan Ready before Tracy Lawrence headlines the final day of music.
West tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during his junior year and tore the ACL in his left knee during the first week of practice as a senior. Those injuries gave him time to start writing songs.
West had to cancel a previously booked show so he could open for Lawrence. The only other show he’s backed out of was on the night of his senior prom. He figured that after missing so much of his senior year he wasn’t going to miss prom.
After West suffered his knee injury his junior year, he was still playing. His duties included snapping the football, an activity that didn’t involve much running.
But doctors told him the injury he picked up his senior year wasn’t worth playing through, so he opted to have surgery. That didn’t stop him from being a visible presence on the Ryan sideline during one of the best seasons in school history.
“Quitting wasn’t an option,” West said. “Like coach Flo [former Ryan coach Joey Florence] always told us, you’re going to have to overcome stuff in life. Even if stuff doesn’t go your way, you have to buckle down and go with it.”
Ryan matched its deepest playoff run in the state’s highest classification. West may not have played a down last season, but he earned the admiration of Florence, who left Ryan to become the Denton school district’s athletic director.
“I think he stands for what high school athletics is about,” Florence said. “He came to practice every day. He came with a great attitude and was at all the games, even though he couldn’t play.
“The only thing that bothers me is I didn’t know that he could sing.”
West started taking guitar lessons in third grade. His instructor, Jared Crebs, said that West ended up being the most dedicated student he had.
“I could tell Kody always worked on his skill,” Crebs said. “He was also adding songs to the repertoire. I would teach him a song, but then he’d come back and he would have learned that song and another song. He just loved the music.”
West started playing shows in January and got his first show on a Tuesday night at Love and War in Texas’ location in Grapevine.
Former Ryan quarterback Mitchell Bridges said he’s enjoyed watching his former teammate take the stage.
“It shows that there’s more than just football,” Bridges said. “We’re not just football players.”
West’s stepfather, Thomas Stratton, has worked at the North Texas Fair and Rodeo for the past 10 years and helps get acts settled in before they take the stage. But Stratton said his clout didn’t play a major role in West’s two shows during the fair.
“With the fair, that wouldn’t really make any difference,” Stratton said. “He wouldn’t be there if he wasn’t good, because they’re not going to put their reputation on the line just because of me.”
West is holding off the start of college for at least a year. Until then, he’ll keep scribbling down songs and playing for strangers and friends.
“Ask me in a year if it worked out or not,” West said.
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.