LAS VEGAS – J.W. Harris easily could have left the Thomas & Mack Center as the top story of this year’s Finals for his nearly-impossible comeback to win the Rookie-of-the-Year title, if not for the fact that Silvano Alves, J.B. Mauney and Bushwacker were the standout stars of Championship Sunday at the Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Regardless, the four-time PRCA champion went 4-for-6 to stage a remarkable come-from-behind performance at the World Finals and earned 3,736 points toward the world standings to usurp Gage Gay, Tanner Byrne and Brady Sims for the PBR’s top accolade for a bull rider competing in the organization for the first time.
“That was the last thing in my mind,” Harris admitted. “I didn’t know how the deal worked over here, so I kind of thought since I was 28 years old, we will let somebody else win it and skip me out of the picture. It is pretty cool though. Coming in here, I was kind of way back and nobody thought I would win it. I came in and had a good Finals.”
Harris finished only 95.13 points ahead of Gay in the closest Rookie-of-the-Year race since the PBR switched to a points-based system last year.
The May, Texas, bull rider is no stranger to Las Vegas after winning four PRCA championships during the National Finals Rodeo inside the Thomas & Mack Center, but even he didn’t think it would be possible to overcome a 3,428.12-point deficit at the start of the Finals, despite a potential of 5,500 points up for grabs in Las Vegas.
“It is something I didn’t think I was going to win and didn’t think I would have a shot,” Harris said. “Shoot, Gage has been riding good and Tanner, too. The cards had to fall just right, and they did.”
The PBR Rookie of the Year award goes to the bull rider who earns the most points in the world standings over the course of their first season on the Built Ford Tough Series. The rider must crack the Top 30 of the world standings and earn a spot on the Built Ford Tough Series at any point during the season to become eligible and age is not a deciding factor. In 2013, the PBR switched the award to a points-based system instead of money earned.
Gay left the door cracked open for Harris by struggling all week in Las Vegas, only riding Cooper Tires Brown Sugar for 87.75 points and finished 1-for-5 at the five-day event.
Byrne (3-for-6) placed third in the rookie race despite entering Sunday with a chance to pass Gay for the rookie title. However, he bucked off I’m Your Huckleberry and Mick E Mouse to finish seventh in the event average and ended the season 14th in the world standings – 533.71 points behind Harris.
“Gage rides really good for being 20 years old,” Harris said. “He has a bright future ahead of him, and Tanner, I don’t know how he does half of the stuff he does. He just keeps his hand close and doesn’t let go. It was pretty cool watching him.”
Harris earned more points at World Finals than he did all season long. The majority of the points he accumulated at Finals came from placing third in the event average, which provided him 2,000 points toward the rookie race.
“There is something about this building that gets you going,” he said. “If you come out here and you don’t get pumped up you need to quit riding bulls.”
Harris’ matchup against Honey Hush in the championship round was ever so important for the rookie race.
In fact, it was the major difference maker.
How close was it?
Well, if Harris would have bucked off Honey Hush in the championship round, he would have placed fifth overall in the average just behind Matt Triplett. Harris would then have only earned a total of 2,817.75 points at Finals, bringing his season total to 5,941 points and 823.12 points behind Gay (6,764.12 points).
None of that mattered though, seeing as Harris roared the 17,204 people in attendance to life with a BFTS career-high 93.25 points on Honey Hush. He would have won the round if not for Mauney’s 94-point showing on Percolator.
Harris was excited when he found out before the championship round that he was paired with Honey Hush. He was bucked off by the bull, owned by Casey Cox and Swinging C Cattle Company, three months earlier at a Touring Pro Division event in Abileen, Texas.
“I got on him as a bounty bull and he threw me off in 5 or 6 seconds,” Harris said. “When I saw that is what I had, I was pretty excited. I know the people that own him and they are great people.”
The ride broke his previous BFTS high-score mark that he set earlier in the day when he rode Pound the Alarm for 90.5 points to win Round 5. It was his second round win of the Finals after winning Round 1 with 88.75 points on Jo Jo.
Harris also rode Hokey Pokey for 88.5 points in Round 3 on Friday night to place fourth in the round. It was a ride that PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert felt should have been 90-plus.
Lambert has been high on Harris since the PBR offered him three-event exemptions starting with the BFTS event in Fresno, California. Still, the World Finals was clearly a level PBR fans had yet to see from Harris.
“Silvano was great, but I am more proud of the finish J.B. Mauney, J.W. Harris and Bushwacker. They all came through,” Lambert said.
Harris eventually made himself eligible for the rookie title when he jumped to 29thin the world standings after tying for sixth-place at the PFI Western.com Invitational in Springfield, Missouri at the beginning of September.
“That kind of took that weight of it off and I wasn’t coming in as an alternate anymore, but you know I don’t really feel like I have much to prove,” Harris said. “I just go out there and nod my head because I love riding bulls and the PBR has given me the opportunity to get on more bulls.”
He made headlines a week earlier when he nearly rode Mick E Mouse in the championship round in Thackerville, Oklahoma, after selecting the bull with the third pick in the draft. Harris was just fooled by Mick E Mouse in the final second as he battled every single step of the way until being shed at the 7.47-second mark.
He finishes the season ninth in the world standings despite competing in only 14 BFTS events and beginning World Finals 31st in the world standings. He posted a riding average of 43.24 percent (16-of-37) with two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes.
During the summer, Lambert predicted Harris would rise out of the bottom of the standings.
“I think by the end of the year, he will be close to the Top 10 and next year I expect him at least in the Top 5,” Lambert said.
Harris used his World Finals performance to steal the Rookie-of-the-Year award away from an impressive rookie class and he hopes it can propel him into the 2014 National Finals Rodeo in December with some momentum, as well as the start of the 2015 Built Ford Tough Series in January.
“It is a good end to a break that I am going to take before the NFR and it damn sure can springboard me into the NFR,” said the bull rider ranked sixth in the PRCA standings. “I have that momentum going forward and have shown I can ride. Now it kind of takes that pressure off a little bit of having to go out there to try and win my first (BFTS) event. I won two rounds and now we can go out there and just have fun and ride bulls.”
He later concluded, “I will be over here at the PBR starting in Baltimore and I am not going anywhere.”
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