By Chris Burrows
Eight seconds. It's not a long time. Unless you're Ben Duggar.
Eight seconds is all that's needed to complete a successful bull ride. That's right. Eight seconds of strength, leverage, balance and determination. Eight seconds.
"It's a long time," said the Ellistown native, who is in Bozeman, Mont., to compete in college rodeo's NCAA Tournament. "I missed a title for my age group a couple of years ago by eight-tenths of a second. I was on the last ride and stayed on the bull for 7.2 seconds. It doesn't take long to get thrown and stomped on by a bull."
Riding bulls is Duggar's passion. "It's what I do. It's what I love," he said. And he's good at it. Very, very good.
Duggar, who rides for Odessa (Texas) College, will compete in a group of 25 riders for the national championship next week. He's the only freshman in the lot, an impressive achievement.
"I always dreamed I'd be in this position, because this is the final step before becoming a PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) bull rider fulltime," Duggar said. "This is the tournament that was won by the current PRCA champion, Jerome Davis.
"This tournament is the stepping stone to a major professional career."
Duggar's rise in the sport has been nothing short of phenomenal. He was a multiple prep state champion as a high schooler at East Union, but Mississippi isn't considered a hotbed for aspiring collegiate or professional cowboys. Still, his performance was impressive enough to merit a scholarship to Odessa, one of the nation's powerhouse rodeo programs.
"I'd basically been on my own in terms of coaching and technique until I got to Odessa," Duggar said. "I've learned a lot of little things in the past year that I didn't know and I'm still learning.
"Plus rodeo is a little different sport when it comes to how everybody treats each other. Riders compete hard, but everybody helps out each other. It's not a sport where riders keep secrets. It's not unusual to see the top two guys in an event pull each other's ropes."
Duggar whipped seeded opponents
Duggar established himself immediately as a fixture in the six-man lineup for Odessa. In the Southwest Regional Tournament, he scored in bareback riding, bulldogging and team roping. But his strongsuit is bull riding, the showcase event for the sport.
In bull riding, each competitor gets four rides. The rider straps on a flat-braided rope and wraps it around the one hand (Duggar uses his right hand) allowed to hold on. The rider scores by completing the required eight-second ride. Any advantage is eliminated by the blind-draw selection of the bull.
"When you're not riding, you're with the other riders, watching and studying the bulls," Duggar said. "You make notes on the bull's moves, spins and techniques. Everybody compares notes on the animals."
Duggar placed second in the tournament, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. En route, the freshman whipped three older riders ranked in the nation's Top 25, further establishing himself as one of the nation's best and fastest rising young talents.
"I've basically come out of nowhere," Duggar said. "If I do well in the nationals (NCAA Tournament), that's a bonus. The last freshman that competed in the nationals in bull riding was Jerome Davis and he came out of the same regional that I did. That's a good sign as far as I'm concerned."
The NCAA Tournament will offer some new features for Duggar. ESPN will televise the event on a tape-delay basis and the bulls for the event will "be the same ones used on the PRCA circuit," Duggar said. "Some bulls are so good they'll go 200 times without a rider staying on. We'll know real quick how we stack up with the pros."
Becoming a pro cowboy is Duggar's next goal. Bull riders, for the obviously dangerous reasons, compete professionally until their late 20s or early 30s. The top professionals can make $100,000-250,000 per year, while a journeyman professional earns $20,000-$30,000.
"I've qualified as one of the top 25 collegians in the world, regardless what happens in Bozeman," Duggar said. "But I'd be lying if I told you I didn't think I couldn't win it. I know I'm only a freshman, but I can win it.
"I'm just excited to get the opportunity. It would be nice to bring a national title back home to Ellistown. I've been able to travel all the country and there's no place as pretty or nice as Ellistown.
"All I need are eight good seconds."