LAS VEGAS – J.W. Harris is no stranger to the Thomas & Mack Center and Las Vegas, but Monday night was a new career milestone for the 28-year-old cowboy from May, Texas.
Harris received his first PBR World Finals qualifier jacket and ceremonial ring after finishing the Built Ford Tough Series as one of the Top 35 riders in the world.
He was one of eight first-time qualifiers among the 39 riders that checked in for the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Harris was joined by new qualifiers Josh Faircloth, Stetson Lawrence, Zane Lambert, Gage Gay, Tanner Byrne, Brady Sims and PBR Brazil invite Fernando Henrique Novais.
“It’s pretty cool,” Harris said. “It is the first one and something that I wanted to do and I haven’t gotten around to doing it. The qualifying part is over with and now the fun part starts.”
J.W. Harris puts up 87 points on Speckled Ivory in Round 2 of the DeWALT Guaranteed Tough Invitational in Nampa, Idaho.
Harris – a four-time PRCA champion – is by far the most-decorated bull rider among this year’s new qualifiers in Vegas and may be a wild card contender for this year’s World Finals event average title.
As a competitor at the National Finals Rodeo, Harris has become accustomed to getting on bulls over a 10-day span. Therefore, he is more than prepared for the added exposure and pressure that comes with competing in Las Vegas.
“I kind of know what to expect and what is coming and the kind of pressure and all of the stuff that goes with it,” Harris said. “I feel like I have become pretty good at handling this stuff.”
Still, he said he does feel the added pressure at times.
“It is hard not to feel it because of what is on the line and the bulls that you are going against,” he continued. “There is not going to be a night off here. Every time you get on a bull, it is possibly the best bull you have gotten on all year. You have to go at them. There is $250,000 up for grabs.”
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Harris finished his first regular season in the PBR ranked 31st in the world after earning a spot on the BFTS following three event exemptions. He has ridden 12-of-31 bulls (38.71 percent) and posted two Top-5 finishes and four Top-10s.
However, there was no hiding the fact that Harris’ body was feeling the effects of his attempt to compete on both the BFTS and in the PRCA by the time the BFTS event in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was all said and done with over a week ago.
According to ProBullStats.com, Harris has nodded his head a combined 102 times in 74 different events this year.
In the past month alone, Harris had to contend with various injuries affecting his lower back, shoulders and chest. Harris, who was quick to point out that he wasn’t trying to make excuses, added that this year has been the worst he has ever felt leading up to the fall run in his 10-year career.
“This is probably the worst I have ever felt coming into a fall run,” Harris said. “Usually, I feel pretty good, but this year has been a little different. Getting on that many bulls, the wear and tear of travel was kicking my butt. I have been a little beat up, but that is how it goes.
“Now that all of that is over with, we can focus on these PBR Finals and not worry about the NFR or any of that crap. I am just going to focus on the PBR Finals right now.”
Harris said having the past 10 days off was clutch prior coming to World Finals. He received a massage on Monday to help get some additional work done on his sore body and clear up some additional knots in his body.
He now feels the healthiest he has in over a month and at the most important time of the season.
“It’s amazing what your body can do with 10 days rest and I feel good,” Harris said. “Right now, this is the best I have felt in a month.”
Faircloth and Lawrence both agreed with Harris that the extra time off from the BFTS was good for them before heading to Las Vegas. Faircloth and Lawrence previously competed at Finals as either a regional winner or alternate, but they had yet to officially qualify for the Finals and guarantee themselves at least five bull rides until this year.
Faircloth, the No. 32 bull rider in the world, competed in a BFTS-low eight events in 2014, but was able to battle his way to Finals over the course of the final six BFTS events.
“It is just a relief,” Faircloth said. “I was proud to make it and this is another step along the way. It feels good to actually make it. I was right there on the bubble all year and then the last event I was still on the bubble and once I found out I made it I was tickled to death.”
Lawrence, who concluded the regular season 26th in the world standings, also had to fight his way to Las Vegas and competed in the next fewest amount of events with 11.
“It is actually a lot more relaxing,” Lawrence said. “There is a lot more pressure off of me. I can just do what I am here to do and fulfill my dream of being a bull rider.”
Harris would love to win the World Finals event average, but he also knows there are a lot of hungry riders – Faircloth and Lawrence among them – that also have their sights on the same goal.
“That would be pretty cool,” Harris said. “Shoot, maybe I can go win the world in the PRCA, too, and do that in one year. I am not sure if anyone has done that. Regardless, it would still be cool to come out here and win the PBR Finals and there are 38 other guys out there trying to do it.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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