PUEBLO, Colo. – At only 5-foot-5 and 130 pounds, Jess Lockwood is far from an intimidating presence.
You combine Lockwood’s size with his polite Montana manners and boyish appearance and one may not point to him as one of the toughest athletes in the world.
But, as they say, there is more than meets the eye, especially when it comes to the second-youngest rider on the PBR’s Built Ford Tough Series and the No. 2 rider in the world standings.
Lockwood continues to show he isn’t intimidated competing against 2,000-pound animals on a weekly basis in the toughest sport on dirt.
The Volborg, Montana, native’s victory in Austin, Texas, at the Wrangler Long Live Cowboys Classic, presented by Frontier Communications, was the latest highlight in a season that the 19-year-old hopes ends with a PBR World Championship in November.
Lockwood’s 3-for-3 performance caught the attention of many, especially seeing as the 2016 Rookie of the Year could barely walk to safety or stand tall on top of the shark cage after each successful ride inside the Frank Erwin Center.
Words such as tough, gritty and badass quickly became associated with Lockwood after he bounced back from being knocked out cold and almost sustaining a broken back a week earlier in Springfield, Missouri, attempting to ride 2016 World Champion Bull SweetPro’s Bruiser.
Yet Lockwood’s current injury – a lower back strain – is far from the worst of his young bull riding career.
Lockwood even laughs when asked about his latest act of toughness.
“Oh, I have had some bad ones for sure,” Lockwood said with a shrug.
Lockwood was 16 years old when he was stomped on by a bull at an amateur rodeo that resulted in four broken ribs and a punctured/collapsed lung.
The teenager missed three weeks before returning to the arena with no qualms about it.
“Broken ribs are the worst,” Lockwood said. “You can’t do anything. You can’t even breathe without them hurting, so I would say that was the worst. This one hurts when I ride, but I couldn’t even ride with broken ribs.”
Two-time World Champion and CBS Sports Network commentator Justin McBride wasn’t too surprised to see Lockwood bounce back in Austin.
“I don’t think toughness has ever been a question with this kid,” McBride said. “He is tough and he wants to win.”
Lockwood went 3-for-3 in the event, but he did buck off Jack Shot in 5 seconds during the 15/15 Bucking Battle.
He began his weekend by winning Round 1 on Luke with 90.25 points. Lockwood then marched his way to victory Sunday with 84 points on What’s Under Your Hood and 90 points aboard More Big Bucks.
“Lockwood was pretty dang good,” McBride said. “That is cool to see after him getting banged up. It could have been easy for him to go through the motions this weekend and blame it on being too sore. I am proud of him coming out and kicking ass because that is what he did.”
Lockwood is only 85 points behind world leader Kaique Pacheco heading into this weekend’s Buck Off The Island, presented by Cooper Tires, despite having missed five events because of a torn groin earlier this season.
In fact, Lockwood has competed in the fewest BFTS events (16) among the Top 10 active riders in the world standings.
Lockwood is 25-for-53 (47.17 percent) through 16 events in 2017, which is nearly identical to his 2016 numbers.
In 2016, Lockwood was 25-for-57 (43.86 percent) in 16 events.
One major difference is Lockwood’s ability to get into the winner’s circle this season.
Austin was his PBR-leading fourth win and his ride on More Big Bucks was his sixth BFTS round victory.
Lockwood won one event last year and set a PBR rookie record with eight BFTS round wins.
In regards to competing this weekend in Uniondale, Lockwood considers himself day-to-day.
He admits the thought of sitting out because of his back injury had crossed his mind.
“This is a day-by-day thing,” Lockwood said. “I should be good, but it also wouldn’t be a bad idea to sit out. I don’t want the whole second half of the season go like this. I mean, it is going good, but I don’t want to be hurting like this.
“As long as you are smart and treat it well. It will be fast and over.”
Still, it will be hard to sit out with only five regular-season events remaining and less than 200 points separating the Top 4 in the world standings.
Lockwood confirmed Tuesday morning that he will be riding in Uniondale.
“I’m riding there,” Lockwood said in a text message. “My back actually feels as good as it has since it got hurt. Yesterday and today I could actually put my socks on without it hurting.”
Lockwood will continue to use electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) therapy at home in Montana and go to physical therapy daily.
He knows the race is extremely close, but Lockwood understands nothing is going to be set in stone until the conclusion of the World Finals on Nov. 5 in Las Vegas.
“All the points are at the Finals too,” Lockwood concluded. “If you are healthy at the Finals that will make a world of a difference.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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