BILLINGS — Ezekiel Mitchell had five minutes remaining in his Texas government class when his phone buzzed.
He saw it contained a Colorado area code and thought it might be important.
“With just five minutes left, I didn’t want to get up and walk out,” Mitchell said of getting the call on Monday while at Hill College in Texas.
The friendly bull rider waited until he got in his car and started driving back to his dorm room.
It was the Professional Bull Riders office, telling him there was a spot open for the event in Billings if he wanted it.
“I called back but the person wasn’t there,” Mitchell said. “I was thinking, ‘I hope they didn’t give my spot away.’"
They didn’t and Mitchell was in Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark Saturday night to complete the first round of the Stanley Performance in Action Invitational.
The event concludes with the second round and championship round. The competition will begin at 1:45 p.m. on Sunday.
Saturday night’s 15/15 Bucking Battle was still in progress at press time.
It was Mitchell’s first time competing at the PBR’s top level. He and more than a dozen bull riders were making their PBR televised event debuts with the expanded field.
“I’ve done a lot of stuff,” he said of competing in the PBR’s Velocity Tour and Touring Pro Division events. “It’s time to step it up.”
The 21-year Mitchell, of Baytown, Texas, didn’t start riding bull until the age of 18. A qualifier for the Texas High School State Finals, he’s been on the road ever since.
“I left home for the Texas high school finals and never went back,” he explained. “My mom and I didn’t agree with my bull riding. We didn’t see eye-to-eye.”
Janie Davis has since come around, attending the Velocity Tour Finals in Las Vegas last October.
Mitchell, who describes his riding style as, “A lot of heart and try,” came to Billings in 61st place in the PBR world standings.
“I want to show I belong here. I want to get on the best bulls,” he said.
His protective vest is devoid of any sponsorship patches.
“I did this on my own,” Mitchell said of his bull riding career. “I don’t have any sponsors. I know what the bottom feels like.”
“If any businesses are interested …" he finished with a laugh.
Mitchell was familiar with Montana, having placed fifth at last year’s PBR event in Big Sky.
“The crazy part, it hasn’t bothered me yet,” he said of being in the locker room with some of the world’s greatest bull riders. I’m one of them.”
Mitchell didn’t get what he was looking for, getting bucked off in 2.22 seconds by the bull Check It Out.
But he wasn’t alone. There were only four qualified rides Saturday night, including a pair of 84s by Joao Ricardo Vieira and Tye Chandler. Vieira won the Billings PBR event in 2013.
There were only 11 qualified rounds in the extended first round. The remaining spots for the top 30 in the second round will be determined by the world standings.
Along with travel costs, Mitchell’s decision cost him something else.
After getting the phone call from the PBR office, he drove straight to his rodeo coach’s office on campus to inform him about competing in Billings.
The decision cost Mitchell the bull riding title in the Southern Region.
“It’s already worth it,” he said.