19-year-old star bull rider aims to make it back to the top

This piece originally aired on April 25, 2017. 

Professional bull riding is a sport with millions in prize money at stake and more than a million viewers during televised events. Nineteen-year-old Jess Lockwood, 2016's rookie of the year, became the world's number one bull rider after a major win in New York City and is now trying to earn that top ranking back after suffering an injury earlier this year.

Eight seconds. That's how long a bull rider hopes to hang on with one hand in what is called "the toughest sport on dirt."

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"Yeah, you can't get too overly excited or too timid during the ride 'cause that'll go bad both ways. It's pretty much like dancing. Whatever he does, you gotta counteract it with the same move and same speed," Lockwood said.

For the past year, Lockwood has been dancing professionally with 2,000 pounds of muscle, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

Lockwood won his first elite competition before he graduated high school, and as the wins continue to pile up, the sport's greats are realizing they're watching someone special.

"He's the kind of guy that comes along maybe once a generation. There's not really anybody in Jess' league especially at 19 years old," said two-time professional bull riding champion Justin McBride.

Lockwood is touring the country, posing for photos and riding high in front of more than a million fans a year. It's a giant leap to a big stage for a kid from Volborg, Montana, where the population is just 17.

In a town like Volborg, there's not much else to do besides riding animals.

"No. Heck, you grow up ridin' horses to gather the cows and then-- yeah, you're just ridin' at all times," Lockwood said.
 
Lockwood's family is full of cattle ranchers and retired rodeo athletes, and he got on his first bull at 13 years old, a moment he had been thinking about for a long time already.

"Oh yeah, since I was 3 or 4," Lockwood said.
 
These days he lives part of the year in Bowie, Texas, north of Dallas, where he trains and does chores to earn his keep at the ranch of Cody Lambert.
 
Lambert, a retired bull riding champion, is now the livestock director for Professional Bull Riders, oft-referred to as just PBR.
 
On Lockwood's skill level, Lambert said, "I'd say he's got a very good chance to be as good as the best we've ever seen. But we're a long ways from that. He's the nicest kid you ever meet, but he's got a little mean streak through there that he doesn't accept defeat very well."
 
Lockwood's size is ideal for bull riding: 5 feet 5 inches tall and 130 pounds. 

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Jess Lockwood, 19, celebrates his victory in the PBR Monster Energy Buck Off at Madison Square Garden in New York Jan. 8, 2017.

AP

The wrestling he did in high school now helps him grapple with bulls.  
 
"In wrestling you have to have good hips to win matches and same thing in bull riding. You have to have good hips to ride bulls," Lockwood said.
 
You also have to have discipline. Lockwood works out daily, including hot yoga, to maximize balance, flexibility and build a strong core for a bull session that is dangerous business.

"Yeah. Yeah, he's got a job, and you've got a job, and you've gotta be better than him," Lockwood said. "Every single time."
 
"It's scary. It's exciting, but it's scary every time he rides," said Ed Lockwood, Jess' father.
 
Ed Lockwood knows that sitting on the back of a one-ton beast carries the risk of serious injury -- even death. "I just get nervous. I probably get a lot more nervous than he does," Ed Lockwood said.  

On whether he has any fear when he's riding, Lockwood said, "Oh no. There's-- hell of a lot easier jobs that you could be doin' that aren't as dangerous as this. If you even have the slightest thinking that you could get hurt, you might as well just pack up your bags and go home. You know it's a dangerous sport and the consequences of it."

Earlier this year, Long John, a 1,900-pound bull, bucked Lockwood off and landed directly on his thigh. The incident later led to a double groin tear. 

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Jess Lockwood attempts to ride D&H Cattle Company's SweetPro's Long John during the 15/15 Bucking Battle round of the Kansas City Built Ford Tough series PBR.

Andy Watson

"You're gonna get hurt. And after you get hurt you're gonna know how bad you wanna ride 'cause you're gonna see first-hand what can happen every single time," Lockwood said. 

 After six weeks of rehab and recovery, he is back and the sport is happy to have him. They have positioned him as the young heartthrob to attract new fans.

"Jess is the kind of kid that you dream about to come along to take your sport even further than where it's been," McBride said.

On whether he's surprised by his success, Lockwood said, "No. You expect yourself to show up and win every weekend. There's no point in showin' up if you're not plannin' on winnin'."

 Lockwood is doing just that and riding his way into rodeo stardom, one eight-second thrill at a time.