Ezekiel Mitchell played football and ran track because he didn’t have the background or money to learn how to ride a bull.
So he did what teenagers do: Watched YouTube.
The video tutorials launched Mitchell’s quest to become a professional bullrider, a journey that takes him to Madison Square Garden ranked No. 2 in the world for Professional Bull Riding’s season opener in New York City that runs through Sunday. He’s the only black rider in the 35-rider field in PBR’s top series.
Mitchell’s debut on one of the sport’s biggest stages caps a whirlwind nine months in which he received a call from PBR about an opening for a rider while he was sitting in class at Hill College in Texas.
He accepted the slot last April and days later was riding for the first time in the elite division in Billings, Montana. He was a winner on the tour by November and skyrocketed his way through the world rankings.
His rapid ascent began when he was 14 and turned to the internet for help with his interest in bulls. Mitchell is from Rockdale, Texas, and one of 11 children. He had been to rodeos with his father, a horse dentist. His family assumed he’d become a veterinarian and pursue a sensible career.
“There was a lot of controversy between me and my mother,” Mitchell told The Associated Press on Friday, hours before his first career ride at the Garden. “My parents wanted me to be a vet or continue to play football and run track. I was pretty good at a lot of things. My mother wasn’t really behind the idea. She limited what I could do. She didn’t ever tell me ‘No,’ but she thought I might grow out of it after a little while.”
Mitchell moved from YouTube to practicing on a homemade drop barrel. A neighbor later helped him weld a mechanical bull with a car suspension. Within two years Mitchell got on his first bull. Once he turned 18, and was a qualifier for the Texas High School State Finals, he took control of his career.
“I just moved out and never went back,” said Mitchell, who proved to his family he was on the right path. “They love it now. Everybody is 100 percent behind me now.”
Mitchell is one of the many success stories PBR is touting as it kicks off in New York City for the 13th season with aspirations to build on its growth the last several seasons.
PBR, which last year set more than 20 local event attendance records, expands this season to Los Angeles with its inaugural event at Staples Center in February. The series will be in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York this season.
PBR CEO Sean Gleason said Friday the expansion into the Los Angeles market will be aided by the circuit’s longtime presence in nearby Anaheim, California, and promotion from the sports talent agency that purchased the series in 2015. Endeavor, formerly the William Morris Agency/IMG, will try to bring exposure to the sport on the same weekend as the Oscars.
“We expect that to be a great party,” Gleason said.
The PBR Global Cup, a five-nation team bull riding tournament, will be held next month at AT&T Stadium in Dallas and has expanded this year to include a team of Native American riders.
“We’re coming off record-setting year after record-setting year and there’s a lot of excitement around the series,” Gleason said. “We just opened the New York Stock Exchange and we are hoping we kicked off a bull run for everyone.”