In 2005, Matt Austin put together one of the great seasons in bull riding history.
The soft-spoken Wills Point, Texas cowboy won his first world championship in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association; won the average at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo; won the College National Finals; won the PRCA's Xtreme Bulls Finals and overall title and the Championship Bull Riders world title.
Along the way, he shattered the PRCA's single-season earnings record with $320,766 — a record previously held by ProRodeo Hall of Famer Ty Murray, who made $297,896 in 1993 while competing in three events. (Austin's record was broken in 2007 by five-time world all-around champion Trevor Brazile, who earned $425,115 in three events.)
By the end of the 2005 season, Austin was arguably the best bull rider in any association and drawing comparisons with past world champions like Murray and Jim Sharp.
"He just makes it look easy," said four-time world champion Tuff Hedeman in 2005. "And it isn't easy."
By the end of the 2006 season, bull riding was no longer easy for Austin, who had to drop out of the Wrangler NFR after two rounds with torn abdominal and groin muscles. He missed all of the 2007 season as he recovered from surgeries for those injuries and a previously torn knee ligament.
His comeback this season has been anything but easy.
"The road back has been a little tough," he said this week from his home in Texas. "But like my dad said, 'If you're a true champion, you can bounce back from it. You just have to keep pressing on and having faith, trying hard and bearing down.' That's what I'm trying to do."
After months of struggles, Austin, who is deeply religious, paired with another devout bull rider, Kody Lohstroh of Longmont, Colo., to win the second Professional Bull Riders Team Shootout event in Paso Robles, Calif.
"He just called me out of the blue and picked me to be on his team," Austin said of Lohstroh. "I said, 'Shoot, yeah!' We're a lot alike. We both know where the glory comes from. We know where to give it, too."
The victory earned Team Lohstroh more than $22,000 each and a spot in the PBR Team Shootout Finals in Pueblo, Colo., on Aug. 20.
Austin helped clinch the title by successfully riding Judd Leffew's bull Money Man from the "fearsome five," a pen of the rankest bulls at the event.
Along with helping his team win, the solid ride on a rank bull gave Austin a much-needed shot of confidence.
"You bet it does," he said. "That's all bull riding is, anyway: getting back in the groove of things, getting that confidence back and knowing you can ride. I know what I'm capable of. I just have to go out there and do it."
The 25-year-old Austin said he would like to earn enough money this season to qualify for the PBR World Finals, and he's getting close. He has earned $33,565 at PBR events and sits 56th in the PBR Qualifier Standings. The top 45 qualify for the World Finals and Austin is about $6,000 out of a qualifying spot.
"I'm going to some rodeos and going to enter some more PBR Challenger Tour events and hopefully make the PBR Finals," he said.
He said he is happy to be healthy once again and is confident his riding will return to form as well.
"It's been a little rough getting started, but it just keeps getting better and better," he said. "I've got a lot of help from the good Lord up above."
The PBR Team Shootout Finals are scheduled to be televised on ESPN from 3 to 4 p.m. EST on Sept. 14.