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Behind the Chutes: Baltimore, Day 1

BALTIMORE – Here are three things we learned from Round 1 of this weekend’s Baltimore Invitational at the Royal Farms Arena.

Schaper records first ride of 2015; 20 total qualified rides in Round 1

It didn’t take long for Nathan Schaper to record the first ride of the 2015 Built Ford Tough Series when he held on to Nefarious for 86.25 points in the second out of the New Year.

“It feels good to start it off like that, for sure,” Schaper said. “That bull had a lot of timing. I felt good. The breaks does me really good. I don’t need to be getting on a lot of practice bulls. I try not to think about bull riding a whole lot in the offseason and you get as far away from it as possible. You come back and everything is fresh, new and you are just reacting.”

Schaper kicked off a strong night of bull riding as the Top 35 bull riders in the world combined for 20 qualified rides, eight of which were scored 85 points or higher.

The 24-year-old finished Round 1 fourth and is hoping to repeat his similar success that he had to begin the 2014 season when he went 9-for-12 in the first four BFTS events.

“I don’t know what it is, but I seem to ride good in the beginning of the year,” Schaper said. “Everyone is a lot healthier. I am not the only one that stayed on. Most everyone stayed on tonight. Everyone is feeling good. There are not a lot of injuries and everyone is excited and happy to be here.”

Mike Lee wins Round 1 on Pecos Bill

The first round win of the 2015 season went to 2004 World Champion Mike Lee as the Decatur, Texas, cowboy conquered Pecos Bill for 87.75 points.

Lee was able to bounce back from a rough moment in the bucking chute when Pecos Bill lunged the 31-year-old head first into the chute in front of him. However, Lee, who was wearing his standard blue helmet, said the blow didn’t faze him too badly.

Instead, he had to contend with Pecos Bill’s hard bucking style that proved to be a further challenge, especially around the 5.5-second mark.

“That bull really kicks hard. That is a rodeo bull and been around a long time, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Lee said. “An older bull like that, he is smart enough to (not let you) make any dumb moves and he will go the other way or something. I felt really good on him. He was pretty heavy and was jerking on me a few times and I remember myself grunting. He pulled me down a little bit once and was kind of pulling and jerking on me a little bit and I was just grunting my way through it. I figured if I held my breath he would get me down. I was just trying to let some air out and go with the ride.”

Lee added that he spent the final month of the offseason getting on some practice bulls and going to a few smaller, local rodeos to regain his timing following his left shoulder injury at the World Finals, which led to a seventh-place finish in the world standings.

“I was nervous coming here tonight and was kind of wondering if I still had it to be at this kind of level and I think I do,” Lee said. “I have a lot of people believing in me and I believe in myself. I have a right to be here as long as I ride this good.”

Lee is also one of a group of bull riders that will be visiting the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House at Johns Hopkins on Saturday afternoon.

Rounding out the Top 5 in Round 1 were Kasey Hayes (87.25 points on Loco Lizard), J.W. Harris (86.75 points on Alternator), Schaper and 2008 World Champion Guilherme Marchi (85.75 points on RMEF Big Bull).

Hayes, who had received a motivational text from Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen this week, was one of three bull riders (Kasey Hayes/Jordan Hupp) competing for Allen’s new Jared Allen’s Pro Bull team.

Proctor records first ride in nearly a year and unveils new hairstyle

Shane Proctor rang in the New Year with a completely shaved scalp thanks to father-in-law Tim Mauney and picked up his first qualified ride since Jan. 3, 2014, when he made 8 seconds aboard Billy Jack for 83 points in Round 1.

Friday night was Proctor’s first BFTS event since last year’s season-opener in New York before two separate surgeries to his right and left shoulders forced him to miss the remainder of the 2014 BFTS.

“It’s been a while,” Proctor said. “It’s great to be here in this Built Ford Tough Series atmosphere. There is nothing like it when it comes to riding bulls. It is hard being away from it for so long. I hadn’t been released (to ride) until a couple days ago officially. I got on four bulls yesterday and J.B. helped me get on them.”

In terms of his shoulders, Proctor said he felt good in the practice pen and just as good riding Billy Jack.

“My shoulders are doing good and I feel comfortable with them,” he explained. “It is just getting the timing back. I couldn’t have drawn a better bull for the first one back. It went right into my mitt. It is just fun getting on bulls again.”

And about that new haircut?

“Man, I had to try something different,” Proctor said before laughing. “2014 was fun because I got to go travel with my wife a bunch, but I didn’t get to get on many bulls. I needed to do something different. Hopefully I start 2015 in the right direction.

“It is a new look, but I don’t mind it at all.”

INJURY UPDATES

According to Dr. Tandy Freeman, Ben Jones is probable for Round 2 on Saturday after sustaining facial abrasions and contusions when he was stepped on after being thrown from Wreck It Ralph during Round 1.

The PBR announced just before Round 1 that Stetson Lawrence was a late scratch from the event because of the torn left PCL that he sustained at the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals attempting to ride Feeling Blue.

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.

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