This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
West Valley City » J.W. Harris is midway through one of the most dominant seasons a professional cowboy has ever manufactured.
He is the LeBron James of rodeo.
Harris has finished first -- or tied for first -- in 15 rodeos in 2009, including top-tier events at San Antonio, Fort Worth and Reno.
A resident of May, Texas, which has a population of 500, Harris has amassed $136,000 in earnings and is the runaway leader in this season's bull riding standings.
Already, the soft-spoken bull rider has virtually clinched a spot in the National Finals Rodeo.
The top 15 money-winners qualify for the National Finals and Harris has nearly doubled the earnings of Payson's Steve Woolsey, who sits in third place with $72,000.
At the age of 23, Harris credits his sensational success this season to the fact he has "finally matured. ... I've learned how to take things as they come. I don't get too excited, whether I finish first or last. I just relax and take them all the same."
Of course, that's easier to do when a bull rider finishes first far more often than he finishes last.
"I'm riding most of my bulls," Harris said. "I've stayed on over half the bulls I've been on and that's the key to it. If you ride everything you get on, they'll pay you."
Harris was the biggest name to compete in Monday night's opening round of the Days of '47 Rodeo at the E Center, but he recorded a no-score.
Harris will try to rebound tonight at Ogden and Wednesday at Frontier Days in Cheyenne.
Born into a rodeo family -- his father was the Texas Circuit's Rookie of the Year in 1989 -- Harris climbed aboard his first bull when he was four.
"Ever since I knew what it was about," he said, "I wanted to do it."
But success was hardly instantaneous.
In fact, Harris ran out of money following a no-score at Nampa, Idaho, during his rookie season of 2005.
When he went to an ATM machine to withdraw gas money for the drive to Frontier Days in Cheyenne, he was refused.
"I kind of knew I needed to stay on in Nampa to get to Cheyenne," Harris recalled. "But I got thrown off."
Fortunately, Harris was traveling with an uncle, who bought "most of the gas" and paid for a hotel room.
Harris did the rest.
He won the short round, finished second in average and earned $10,000. That night, he bought his uncle dinner at McDonald's.
Harris' breakthrough season was 2008, when he qualified for the National Finals in Las Vegas, rode six of his 10 bulls, earned $96,000 and claimed his first world championship.
Much of the success came after Harris suffered his fifth concussion of the year and he started wearing a helmet.
At the National Finals, he joined B.J. Schumacher as only the second world champion to wear protective headgear.
"I just smartened up a little bit," he said. "I finally got some sense knocked into me. ... I could never see myself doing anything else. So I put on the helmet and it's probably prolonged by career another five or six years."
The Days of '47 Rodeo continues nightly through Saturday.
The J.W. Harris File
Residence » May, Texas
Age » 23
Event » Bull riding
PRCA earnings » $517,899
World titles » 1
National Finals appearances » 3
Career highlights » Leads the 2009 bull riding standings and has virtually clinched another trip to the National Finals Rodeo. ... Won the 2008 world championship. ... During the 2008 season, he won at Dodge City, Pendleton and Amarillo. ... Won two rounds at the 2007 National Finals. ... Placed in three rounds at the National Finals in 2006.
Continues nightly at 7 p.m. through Saturday.