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Greg Fuller will sit out year after knee surgery

Eight seconds will have a lot less meaning for Greg Fuller this year.

Usually, it's the seemingly infinite stretch of time between when the native of Dimmitt, Texas, would nod his head and hopefully still be upright when the whistle sounds. Much like when he recorded a 95-point ride on Jan. 14 at this season's Xtreme Bulls opener in Guthrie, Okla., aboard Western Rodeo's Cow Pick.

Now, eight seconds is just an arbitrary period of time. And he has plenty of it these days.

Shortly after his 95 in Guthrie, Fuller's already damaged right knee took a shot from a bull's hoof at the following Xtreme Bulls event in Fort Worth, Texas (a Division II qualifying stop). But when the swelling didn't immediately subside, he knew something was wrong. A subsequent MRI on the knee revealed the carnage — a torn ACL. Surgery is scheduled for Feb. 21.

"The ACL is completely gone," Fuller said. "I need to get it fixed. I could have gone on and rode this year, but surgery was inevitable."

For Fuller, he could "cowboy up" and go after rodeo's holy grail at 70 percent. Instead, he forced himself to take a step back and look at the big picture.

"I really hate missing the year," Fuller said. "But I'd like to be sound on it. I'm looking at someday winning the world, but I need to be 100 percent. I'm treating this like a business. I was headed to the Wrangler NFR last year, then I missed a month and still almost made it. Injuries have kept me from some success. I feel like I'm riding as good as anybody."

He proved that by winning average titles at the Snake River Stampede (Nampa, Idaho); West of the Pecos (Texas) Rodeo and Wild Wild West Pro Rodeo (Silver City, N.M.) in 2005. He also claimed the year-end and season crowns in the Texas Circuit, giving him a berth in the prestigious Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Pocatello, Idaho.

He figured he was on his way to Las Vegas with a top 15 ranking heading into September. But that all changed at the Frontier Days Pro Rodeo in Walla Walla, Wash. While dismounting from his bull, Fuller absorbed a glancing blow in mid-air and landed awkwardly on his right leg.

He took a month off and went to the gym to rehab. The time off, however, gave the competition time to pass Fuller en route to Las Vegas.

Thinking back to Walla Walla, Fuller noticed that his technique of always trying to land on his feet after a ride — or buck off — may be the reason behind having the ACLs in both knees torn in the past three years.

"Since I can remember, I've been like a cat," Fuller said. "You know how when a cat is in the air, somehow they manage to land on their feet. Well, that's me, I guess. Maybe it's a technique or instinct. I just try to get my feet under me.

"I always seem to get the same type of bull. He catches me on the way down. In Walla Walla, he hit me with his rear end on the way down and I landed funny. It's just a freak deal that happens."

Now, Fuller, the son of a rancher, will have plenty of time to ride colts and provide support to traveling partners Matt Austin — the reigning world champion — along with D.J. Domangue and Howdy Cloud, two others who have Wrangler NFR experience from last year.

"Usually the first thing I do after getting home is catch a colt and start riding. Or watch a movie or kick back with my friends. It looks like I'll have plenty of time for that this year."

Fuller's upbringing in a ranching family seemed to have him poised to ride horses, not bulls. For years, Fuller rode a variety of horses at the Lubbock Horse Auction, a South Plains institution for more than 40 years.

"Every Tuesday night," Fuller beamed. "I rode a bunch of bucking horses, but not by choice. It was my job. I was only bucked off once in five years. I knew I could ride them. I just never really wanted to."

But Fuller went ahead and tried it out.

"I didn't get the feel in a saddle and with a saddle horn," Fuller said. "I got on a bareback horse and stayed on. I didn't really like it."

So it was on to bulls.

"The thing I like about bull riding is when you disperse your body weight right and you're in the right spot at the right time, nothing else matters. It's just as easy as anything. That takes all the power away from the bull."

But when a rider isn't in the right spot, things can and do go terribly wrong. In Abilene, Kan., Fuller found himself under a bull from Sammy Andrews during his rookie year in 2002.

The bull stepped on Fuller's chest, broke seven ribs, punctured both lungs and lacerated his liver and a kidney. So missing the year to knee surgery is nothing when put in real perspective.

"I almost died after that one. That put me out for the year, too."

So coming back from setbacks is nothing new to Fuller. One of these years, Fuller will get the chance to ride injury free, eight seconds at a time. That's enough to keep him going this year.

"Eight seconds will be more like eight months this year," Fuller said. "I still haven't gotten to finish a year. But injuries are part of it. Sitting out this year will make me want it more."