Ryan Chartrand

The bull’s nostrils are flaring with anger, and the rider slips his hand into the ropes that will fasten him to the sizable beast. For the next eight seconds, man and bull will be tied together in a battle of who can withstand the other longest.

“There can be no doubt in your mind about getting hurt, or that you can’t do this,” says Cal Poly’s Josh Verburg. “Bull riding is a mental game and you just have to give it your all.”

With 1,030.5 points, Verburg, a 22-year-old agribusiness junior, has become the No. 1-ranked bull rider in the country by the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association.

Born and raised on a dairy farm in Fresno, Verburg started bull riding at the age of 3, when his father placed him on calves, thus beginning his passion in life. By age 8, Verburg was introduced to the junior rodeo.

“Working on a dairy farm kept us busy and taught us to work hard,” Verburg says. “You’re up early feeding cows and then home at night washing out the milk barn. I was in charge of the calves, and I have been involved with them all my life.”

Verburg’s father John was a professional bull rider and passed on his zest for riding to his eldest son. Out of four boys in the family, Josh is the only one to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“My brothers are all into football,” he says of his siblings, one of whom earned a full scholarship to play at Sacramento State. “I guess I’m the only one who wanted to continue bull riding.”

Verburg’s passion for bull riding has helped him persevere through some tough breaks, such as having to endure four titanium plates in his face, along with 24 screws holding the bones in place.

“It happened in Fort Worth, Texas, when this bull whipped me off and then, with the back of his head crushed my face, sending me into the ICU for seven days,” Verburg says.

His face doesn’t have a noticeable scar, but Verburg has come away humbled by the dangerousness of the sport.

“With bull riding, you don’t get a lot of practice,” he explains. “Getting on bulls of this caliber is hard to train for. You have to stay in shape, physically and mentally, until the adrenaline kicks in about five minutes before the event.”

While Verburg is finishing school, he competes in Professional Bull Riders, Inc. part-time and hopes to fulfill his dream of winning the coveted title of world champion.

“Even if I decide to quit bull riding, I still have my degree to fall back on, or take over the family dairy,” Verburg says. “Either way, I’ve got options.”

Verburg’s parents are behind him every step of the way, going to local rodeos and providing funds for his endeavors.

“The rodeo purses are getting a lot bigger, to where guys can make a living off the prize money and even endorsements,” he says. “Rodeos are becoming just as big as the other sports – the future is looking good for rodeo.”

While his PBR profile places his career earnings at more than $20,000, Verburg says the most enjoyable thing about being at a rodeo is the experience of being in new places yet getting to see people he knows.

“Being behind the chutes is the same thing as being in an office,” he says. “That’s where I take care of business. If someone wants to be in this life, they have to have the try. If they have the try, they’ve got the talent.”

Verburg will compete Thursday through Sunday in four rodeos throughout Northern California and Oregon, before eventually partaking in the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo. from June 15 to 21.

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