FORT WORTH, Texas ― "Life's what you make it."
It's not necessarily a philosophy that Jory Markiss lives by. The 23-year-old, who lives in Stephenville, Texas, comes by it naturally. He doesn't know any other way to live life.
Markiss walks with a George Jefferson (played by the late Sherman Hemsley on the classic sitcom "The Jeffersons") like strut or, at the very least, with a bounce to his step in and out of the arena. And, of course, he always seems to be smiling.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm just kind of a happy, loud character."
He added, "It's all natural. This is 100 percent me."
He's also at the forefront of new era of young guns emerging on the Built Ford Tough Series.
Along with Markiss, several other youngsters with less than five years BFTS experience ― Douglas Duncan, 4, Nathan Schaper, 11, Marco Eguchi, 12, Chase Outlaw, 14, Ty Pozzobon, 16, Brant Atwood, 17, Emilio Resende, 27, Troy Wilkinson, 28, Lachlan Richardson, 30, Cody Johnson, 34 ― have established themselves as the future of the PBR at currently ranked in the Top 35.
"I'm just fortunate enough to keep coming here to these coliseums and people are spending their hard-earned money to come watch me ride, so I'm just enjoying it all right now."
Josh Faircloth, Stormy Wing and Joseph McConnel are in the Top 40.
McConnel ― the younger brother of Ryan McConnel ― is only 19 years old and yet to make his BFTS debut, but garnered some attention a few weeks ago when he out-rode three former World Champions ― Mike Lee, Kody Lostroh and Guilherme Marchi ― to win a Touring Pro Division event in Denver, Colo.
"They're just young, on top of their game and riding the hair off of whatever they get on," said Markiss, who also name-checked Dakota Beck as another with the potential of emerging in 2013.
In previous years, Duncan has been long on talent and expectations, but short on consistency.
However, that seems to have changed in 2013.
The third generation cowboy from Alvin, Texas, has recorded three Top-10 finishes in the first four events. He's ridden at least two bulls three times and yet to be shutout in any of the four BFTS events, along with having ridden well at two other events in November and December when he entered the PBR Canadian Finals and a TPD event in Fort Worth, Texas.
"That's how you become a World Champion, by being consistent," Duncan said. "Last year, it seemed like I would go five, six bulls in a row without riding one and then I'd be 92 points. If you be 92 points then there's no reason you shouldn't stay on a whole lot more of those other ones."
Duncan is covering a career-best 42.86 percent of his bulls through the first month of the 10-month BFTS season, while Markiss is still at 30 percent with two Top-10 finishes the past two weeks.
"I've only ridden bulls for maybe five, six years and getting to this level and figuring out how to put it together and keep it there ― keep the consistency ― is getting easier," Markiss said. "It's becoming a habit instead of me having to work at it."
The 23-year-old Markiss first discovered the sport at 14, but quit within a year.
He rediscovered bull riding at 18 while living with several riders who have yet to compete at a BFTS, and thought to himself, "I could ride better than them."
In the almost six years since pursing the BFTS, Markiss has steadfastly improved his skills. He qualified as an alternate for one event in 2010 and rode in seven events a year later before doing so in 15 events last season.
This year, his initial goal was to ride his way into the Top 5. One month into the season he rethought his goal and said, "That's not good enough. I want to be a world champ. It's on. That's why I woke up this morning."
On the other hand, Duncan said in spite of being a young gun he's been around long enough to know what he wants ― "winning" ― and his goal has been to win the title since before he was old enough to turn pro.
"Nobody wants to win worse than me," he said, "and I get pretty frustrated when I don't pull things together, but I know I have the ability to. This year I need to make it happen.
"It's a long season and I don't look at the standings, but I know I'm not first and that's all I care about."
The only thing standing between Duncan, who is as close to the complete package as Justin McBride was as a young gun in 2000, is a hip issue that has slowed him in recent years.
Douglas Duncan rides Wolf Creek's Russian Roulette at the Monster Energy Invitational. Photo by Andy Watson / BullStockMedia.com.
At 25, one wouldn't expect to be dealing with a bad hip. Having undergone three hip surgeries one should expect to be better off now than before.
But, for Duncan, that's not the case. However, he's not making excuses.
"You have to take what you can get and if I have bad hips," he explained, "so be it, but I'm going to leave everything on the table. … It's a rough sport, but the price of winning outweighs the amount of pain that I go through. I'm willing to sacrifice that."
Every rider, including the young guns, pay the price for taking part in the most dangerous sport in the world.
It's not always their health.
Markiss and Atwood, who was 2 for 4 last week in Oklahoma City and earned his third Top-10 finish in four BFTS events, talked about the financial strain of just getting started.
As recent as this month, Markiss said he had to scrape together enough money to pay the baggage fee in order to fly to an event.
"I was pretty broke and barely getting from bull riding to bull riding," Markiss said. "I was dragging my knuckles in the dirt and decided I needed to do something different to make things happen."
He covered two of three bulls in Winston-Salem, N.C., and then a week later won the opening round in Oklahoma City with an 89-point effort on Fairy Tattoo.
Atwood said he's competing with the same financial urgency as Markiss.
"Me and Jory, we don't have anybody at home to financially support us," explained Atwood, who worked on an oil drilling rig until last May when he quit to focus full-time on bull riding, "so we have to take everything in on our own. I had to work on the drilling rigs just to get my bank account up to where I could take off and hit the road riding bulls."
He added, "I knew I was good enough to be on tour making a living doing what I love, but (stuff) didn't work out, so, yeah, it lights a fire. I know I'm good enough to be here and that's not to compare myself to Kody Lostroh or to compare myself to J.B. Mauney, but to compare myself to myself."
Despite any hardships and growing pains, as Markiss said, they're young and enjoying themselves and, more importantly, "chasing dreams."
A lot has happened for the youngsters, but, as they've all learned, things can virtually change overnight.
While 11 potential young guns are mentioned in the Top 35 they most likely won't all be there by the time the Top 35 riders in the world make their way to Las Vegas for the World Finals. In fact, the stark reality is that some of them won't even be there in a month.
Time will tell which of them (if any) will eventually be discussed in the same light as when Justin ― McBride, Ross Coleman and Chris Shivers all three of whom are now retired from the sport ― were once considered young guns.
"I'm just fortunate enough to keep coming here to these coliseums and people are spending their hard-earned money to come watch me ride," Duncan concluded, "so I'm just enjoying it all right now."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC
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