About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 22, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 18
Say 'Howdy'' to JHU's Urban Cowboy

Tackling a new challenge: Assistant football coach Bobby Chesney on the Colorado ranch where he took on the unlikely role of reality-TV cowboy.
Photo by Michael Brands for Country Music Television

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Before this past summer began, assistant football coach Bobby Chesney was no cowboy. He had lived in and around big cities most of his young adult life, and his only prior experience on horseback didn't quite go as planned. In fact, he claims that if it weren't for a handy overhead tree branch to grab hold of, the horse he was attempting to ride would have bucked him right to the emergency room.

In other words, he was just the sort of city slicker Country Music Television had in mind for its popular reality show Cowboy U.

The eight-week show, whose sixth season kicked off on Jan. 12 on the CMT network, attempts to acclimate a fresh batch of city dwellers — four men and four women — to the cowboy lifestyle in only three weeks. For this current season, 28-year-old Chesney and seven others traveled to a ranch in Colorado to, among other things, shoot at targets from a horse-drawn wagon, wrangle chickens, ride a bull and administer a pregnancy test to a cow.

As in most reality TV formats, contestants are sent packing until one cowboy or cowgirl is left standing to claim the prizes — $25,000 in cash, and a nifty belt buckle.

Chesney actually had been in the market for a working-ranch vacation when he learned of the casting call for the show. Put off by the high price tags of such a vacation, he thought here was a chance for a free ride. He auditioned in Philadelphia, and next thing he knew he was flying out west.

Right from the start, Chesney said he realized he wasn't in Baltimore anymore. Before he even had a chance to unpack, he and his fellow would-be cowboys teamed up for a challenge that had one person wrestling a calf to the ground (if they managed to catch it, that is) while the other put underpants on the animal. As if that wasn't enough, the pair then had to race the panty-garbed beast to the finish line.

Chesney's team won, but he said it wasn't as easy as it looked.

"Sure, they're innocent-looking calves, but let me tell you, they're at least 150 pounds and plenty tough," said Chesney, who knows a thing or two about tackling.

Chesney, the football team's secondary coach and special teams coordinator, joined Johns Hopkins two years ago. The native of Kulpmont, Pa., played his own ball for Centennial Conference rival Dickinson College, where he was a standout free safety.

He said that friends, family and the rest of the football staff were delighted when they learned he was chosen to be on the show.

"Everyone thought it was pretty neat. For me, here was a chance to be on a national stage, and also to give some recognition to the football team. I tried to name-drop whenever I could," he said.

Chesney has actually become a hometown hero of sorts in Kulpmont, population 2,985. For the show's premiere, friends and family rented out a restaurant and brought in a mechanical bull, an event that drew TV and newspaper crews. The gathering was turned into a charity event, with the $3,000 in proceeds going to the Special Olympics, an organization with which Chesney volunteers in the off-season.

Talking with The Gazette on the eve of the premiere, Chesney said that he was excited to see himself on television, and somewhat nervous to learn what candid moments got caught by the cameras that followed the contestants everywhere, even to the outdoor showers and sinks.

Living in a cowboy boot camp of sorts, each contestant was only allowed to keep one "big city luxury." Chesney kept a deck of cards.

Overall, he called it an experience of a lifetime.

"You learned a different way of life. There was no TV, no phone, no newspapers, not a note of music, just you and a few others out there on the ranch," he said. "I think the reason to tune in to the show is that you get a chance to see people in situations they would not normally be in, people who also were not comfortable in their surroundings. But you had to deal with it, and keep a positive attitude about everything."

How far did Chesney go? He's not at liberty to say. He said you'll have to tune in at 8 p.m. on Fridays to find out.


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |