MERCEDES — Champion showman EJ Guerrero of Harlingen kept piercing eye contact with the judge all while steadily steering his Dark Cross hog throughout the arena.

The judge noticed Guerrero’s tenacity and skill with his 280-pound hog, Notorious, during the showmanship competition held at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show grounds Friday morning.

“(The judge) wants that four-legged creature to work with you like a partner in crime,” Guerrero said. “So, that’s basically what me and Notorious did today.”

Guerrero, a Harlingen High School senior, was among one of eight finalists in the ring aspiring to get their hands on a ribbon or, better yet, the championship belt buckle and money that comes with being named champion showman.

The judge, Kane Causemaker of Illinois, acknowledged that all the finalists were “top-notch, quality kids” who “love the industry.”

“I can tell they’re going to be leaders,” Causemaker said prior to naming the awardees.

But there can only be one champion. This time, it was Guerrero.

“I am very excited to win this,” he said.

Guerrero had already won fifth place in the judging of market hogs held Thursday morning.

“Actually, I didn’t want to do showmanship because I didn’t want to wake up,” he said. “My dad said, ‘It’s your senior year, so just give it a try.’”

Guerrero had been preparing for this day for more than 10 years, having worked with livestock since he was about 8 years old.

Guerrero’s father, Eduardo Guerrero, has an agriculture degree and was there to celebrate while fellow competitors praised and congratulated his son.

“I’ve learned a lot from my dad,” Guerrero said. “My dad is one of the best people I’ve had to help me. I’m really blessed to help my dad as one of my fitters.”

In the showmanship contest, competitors must calmly guide their hogs throughout the arena while maintaining composure. If the hog runs off to the rails, urinates or cannot be directed by its owner, the competitor isn’t likely to advance to the next round.

The competitors guide their animals using a hog bat — a stick used to direct them from left to right through training. When a hog stops abruptly, competitors often tap their hind legs prompting the animal to move in a forward direction again.

Guerrero said he was proud of Notorious, having raised him to compete. The pair previously won grand champion at the Edinburg Cougar Classic.

Having raised a farm animal helped Guerrero become even more disciplined by having to wake up extra early before school to tend to Notorious at the school district’s agriculture and farm building.

The competing hogs will be sold within the coming days.

“You get attached to them,” Guerrero said of having to eventually part ways with Notorious. “You see them every day.”

Guerrero’s next goal is to attend Texas A&M University in Kingsville to major in criminal justice and minor in the agriculture field.

Here’s a list of market hog division winners during the competition held Thursday.

Grand Champion: Caitlyn Cruz – Los Fresnos 4-H

Reserve Grand Champion: Andrea Martinez – Donna North FFA

Duroc Champion: Laryssa Santana – McAllen FFA

Duroc Reserve Champion: Jose Joey Farias – Veterans Memorial FFA

Dark other purebreeds champion: Mia Milano – Harlingen FFA

Dark other purebreeds reserve Champion: Alexandra Salinas – Veterans Memorial FFA

Light purebreeds Champion: Andrew Ballin – Santa Rosa FFA

Light purebreeds Reserve Champion: Angeleena Garza – Edinburg FFA

Yorkshire champion: Madelyn Cole – San Benito FFA

Yorkshire Reserve Champion: Alexandria Davila – Brownsville FFA

Hampshire champion: Caitlyn Cruz – Los Fresnos FFA

Hampshire Reserve champion: Megan Medina – San Benito FFA

Dark Crossbreed champion: Keaton Fohn – Highland Hustlers 4-H

Dark crossbreed reserve champion: Tristen Sauceda – San Benito FFA

Light other crossbreed champion: Andrea Martinez- Donna North FFA

Light other crossbreed Reserve champion: Kianna Avila- Mercedes FFA