Clovis News: Sports

Fresno bull rider hangs up helmet, puts injury in past

Josh Verburg knows better than anyone that a helmet would protect him.

But it also reminds him.

Three years have passed since the Fresno bull rider got smacked in the mouth by a bull named Red Dragon. The impact knocked his jawbone into his cheekbone, fracturing his cheek and nose.

Surgeons needed four plates and 24 screws to hold his face together.

But don't assume Verburg will be wearing a helmet with a protective face mask today when he takes his turn in the chute at the 95th Clovis Rodeo.

About half the bull riders wear helmets. Verburg isn't among them.

"I wore a helmet for a while, and [the injury] was always in the back of my mind," said Verburg, who is finishing up his degree at Cal Poly. "But when I took the helmet off, I just started riding bulls normally.

"I think helmets are a good idea, just not for me."

While helmets offer some protection from a bucking bull's horns, Verburg said wearing one affected his equilibrium.

It messed with his head in other ways, too.

"Every time I put it on, I knew why I was putting it on," Verburg said. "It was just a constant reminder."

Verburg isn't currently ranked among the PRCA's top 50 bull riders, but a victory at his hometown rodeo would change that in a hurry.

The 23-year-old finished third at Clovis in 2007 -- 14 months after his accident -- and was fifth last year.

Poor draws and a nagging groin pull kept Verburg from competing this weekend at smaller rodeos in Springville and Lakeside. Instead, he decided to focus all his energies on Clovis.

A good draw helped. Verburg will be paired with Stone Cold, a Don Kish-owned bull with a 76.9 bucking percentage, according to probullstats.com.

Cowboys who manage to stay aboard Stone Cold for 8 seconds average 81.9 points.

"It's nice to come home," Verburg said. "The only thing about competing at your hometown rodeo is either you're a hero or a zero. There's no in between."

Verburg and the rest of the bull riders in today's performance will be shooting to beat a pair of 87s posted Saturday by Zack Oakes of Elk, Wash., and Steve Woolsey of Payson, Utah.

Woolsey, ranked fourth in the PRCA standings, was so enthused about his ride, he flung his cowboy hat to the center of the arena before his score had been announced.

More than $300,000 in prize money will be awarded following today's final performance.

Barrel racer Sheena Robbins, the only other Fresnan in the field, drew perhaps the day's loudest cheers from the packed arena. Her time of 17.56 seconds left her fifth overall.

The scariest moment came early in the performance when bareback rider Dan Ketter of Roy, Wash., got bucked off the back of his horse -- cowboys call it "going out the back door" -- and got kicked flush in the left knee on his way down.

Ketter had to be helped out of the arena, but initial x-rays revealed no broken bones.

An hour later, while getting treated inside the sports medicine trailer, Ketter called the injury "minor" despite a grapefruit-sized bruise.

"No dancing for you tonight," trainer Rick Foster told Ketter. "Gotta keep that leg elevated."

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