THACKERVILLE, Okla. – It wasn’t the exact start he wanted back in 2008, but when Reese Cates pressed the challenge button inside the Thomas & Mack Center he was living his dream.
The 19-year-old was competing at his first Built Ford Tough World Finals and to this day he still remembers that once-in-a-lifetime feeling of making his first appearance at the PBR’s marque event.
“My favorite moment was probably at the Finals,” Cates recalled. “My very first bull bucked me off at 7.90 seconds. I hit the button and that is what it came to. I remember that moment and thinking this is what I have worked for my whole life and this is where I want to be. I remember how happy that made me.
“I went on to ride my next six out of seven bulls there and I had a great time. I was there with my friends, and my family was able to come support me. I was a kid living his dream. It was definitely a dream.”
Cates posted two 90-point rides – 90.5 points on Firewater an 90 on Evil Forces – during his first World Finals appearance and the El Dorado, Arkansas, native was crowned the 2008 Rookie of the Year.
On Monday night, Cates will join host Craig Hummer, nine-time World Champion Justin McBride, PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert, 1994 Rookie of the Year J.W. Hart and McBride as a guest on “PBR Road to Vegas.”
The episode is the first of a five-part series that airs at 9:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.
Cates will be a part of the roundtable discussion focused on some of the top rookie performances at the World Finals, as well as the distractions that young riders face competing on the biggest stage.
The PBR was where Cates always wanted to be ever since he was a kid watching Justin McBride and Adriano Moraes make the 8-second whistle on television. Now there he was competing alongside both legends in what would be their final seasons in the PBR.
“It was such a fun season for me,” Cates said. “I was living a dream. My rookie season was the retirement season for McBride and Adriano Moraes, which was a very special part of the season to me. I got to ride against my hero for his last season and my first season. I was having fun and, hell, it was a good time.”
Cates was the 15th Rookie of the Year in PBR history and the first from Arkansas.
He concluded his rookie season ranked 11th in the world with a career-high 36 qualified rides and a 45.57 percent (36-for-79).
“It was an award I am thankful for even to this day that I received because you can never go back and try to win it again,” Cates said.
McBride wound up losing the Rookie of the Year crown to Mike White in 1999, but the retired bull rider and current CBS Sports Network commentator remembers how his first Finals taught him that he had to be stronger mentally.
He went 3-for-5 at the 1999 Finals.
“The main thing I learned from my first Finals was that I could do it,” he said. “I could belong there. I think that was the main takeaway. I (had) seen I could ride at that level, but I also learned it is not something you do sometimes. It is something you have to do every time. I (had) seen how the great guys went about it and why they were great. Physically they didn’t have anything more than I did, but mentally they were way better than I was.”
Hart admits he wasn’t focused on winning the Rookie of the Year title.
“The association was so new then that I don’t know if anybody focused on a rookie race,” Hart said. “To be honest, I didn’t even know I had won the Rookie of the Year until they handled me the buckle. It was nothing I had concerned myself with. I was just trying to impress my heroes. I wanted to beat those guys and show them guys I was as good as they are.”
Hart, McBride, Lambert, Murray and Cates have all been impressed with this year’s leading Rookie of the Year contender – Kaique Pacheco.
The standout 20-year-old from Brazil is third in the world standings and is trying to become the first PBR rookie to win the World Championship.
“Kaique has shown a lot of potential to not only be a rookie of the year, but to win a world title,” Cates said. “I don’t think Kaique is going to be able to pull away from it. I definitely think he has a gold buckle in his future.”
More importantly, Cates stressed that all rookies have to make sure to not let any short-lived success get to their heads.
You can have success one season and quickly be gone from the BFTS.
Cates knows firsthand.
Following his rookie year, would only finish inside the Top 35 of the world standings once (32nd, 2011) in the next six seasons and would go through various injuries and surgeries.
It is why the current No. 10 bull rider in the world standings has continued to work hard and strive for more this season, which has become his best season since his esteemed rookie season.
“Winning Rookie of the Year is something you are proud of at the time, but, as soon as you accomplish it, you have to reset your goals and start striving for something bigger and something better,” Cates said. “Even as important as just staying on tour. A lot of guys who won Rookie of the Year, the following year got cut. That was something that happen to me and something I had to deal with. I learned a lot during that period of time.
“There was a lot of growing and a lot of learning and I appreciate what that got for me and am thankful for all of that because it got me to where I am at today.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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