PUEBLO, Colo. – A little more than a month after J.W. Harris used a memorable come-from-behind effort at the Built Ford Tough World Finals to win the PBR’s 2014 Rookie of the Year title, Harris heads back to the Thomas & Mack Center this week in search of his fifth PRCA bull riding championship.
Harris, the defending PRCA bull riding champion, enters the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on Thursday ranked sixth in the PRCA world standings and trails current leader Sage Kimzey by $65,858.63.
However, just as Harris proved at the PBR World Finals, he is no stranger for a dramatic comeback in Las Vegas.
In 2010, Harris rallied from eighth in the world standings to win his third consecutive PRCA bull riding title by going 7-for-10 and winning four go-rounds. He set an NFR-record by winning $158,738 that year in Las Vegas to conclude the season with $246,541 atop the PRCA standings. Unlike the PBR, the PRCA champion is decided based upon money earned throughout the year, not points.
“I can’t control what the guys in front of me are going to do, so I just go out there and keep riding them and keep the pressure on them that way,” Harris said. “I think there is probably more pressure on the top guys just because everybody else is trailing them and trying to get them.”
At the PBR World Finals in October, Harris put forth his greatest performance to date in the PBR by going 4-for-6 to finish third in the event average. He rode Honey Hush for a BFTS career-high 93.25 points in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round following his 90.5-point ride on Pound the Alarm to win Round 5.
He concluded his first season on the BFTS (14 events) ninth in the world standings thanks to a 43.24 percent riding average. He had two Top-5 finishes and four Top-10’s. The 28-year-old earned 3,736 points toward the world standings at World Finals to sneak past Gage Gay, Tanner Byrne and Brady Sims for the rookie title.
He may be sixth in the PRCA standings, but Sims and everyone else associated with professional bull riding knows that Harris – a nine-time NFR qualifier –is capable of rallying for his fifth championship.
“Every year he is good in Vegas,” Sims said. “Them boys at the NFR better watch out for him.”
Harris will have plenty of opportunities to stage a comeback with go-round wins paying out $19,002.40 and the event average winner receiving $48,731.97 this year. Harris also won the NFR event average in 2008, the same year in which he soared from fourth in the world standings to claim his first career PRCA bull riding title.
“I feel like this is where I thrive at – in those high-pressure situations,” Harris said. “Whenever you come out here it is supposed to be the best guys against the best bulls. Whether you are at the PBR Finals or you are at the NFR, it is the best against the best. If you can’t elevate your game for that you need to go home and quit riding bulls.”
Harris easily could have been sitting third in the standings if not for the fact that he was stripped of the $47,726 he earned on the Xtreme Bulls Tour from the standings after not competing in a minimum of 40 PRCA rodeos. PRCA competitors must ride in at least 40 PRCA events for any money earned at Xtreme Bulls Tour events to count toward the world standings.
Harris, who is 33-for-75 (44 percent) in his career at the NFR, said he was aware of the rule and he isn’t going to pay attention to the what-ifs. Instead, he enjoys the challenge of trying to catch the leaders from the middle of the pack.
“It is always fun doing that and then looking at what the people that have to say afterward that were saying, ‘Well, he can’t do it, he is to far back.’ That kind of makes it fun.”
Las Vegas has always been a special place to the May, Texas, native. His wife, Jackie, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Aubrey, two days before the 2010 NFR and he still remembers standing outside the Thomas & Mack Center for his first NFR in 2006 thinking, “Holy crap, this is real.”
His blood still pumps every time he and his fellow competitors go through the practice walk through for the grand entry and there is still no bigger stage than Las Vegas when it comes to bull riding, he says.
“I always said that if I ever get tired and the NFR gets old to me then it is time for me to step away from bull riding,” Harris added. “The buzz there and the atmosphere just gets your blood pumping.”
Harris says he plans to focus on the Built Ford Tough Series in 2015, but he also plans to try and compete at as many rodeos as his body will let him. He still aspires to break Donnie Gay’s PRCA record of eight bull riding championships.
“That is still a goal,” Harris said. “In order for me to do that, I am going to have to swing off a run like I did from 2008-10. I think I can do it, so we are going to give them hell and see what happens.”
Still, there is no question Harris wants to accomplish something he has yet to achieve in his professional bull riding career.
“That’s the next goal on mind (after this year’s NFR) is to win the world title in the PBR,” Harris concluded.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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