FORT WORTH, Texas ― Right about now most 19-year-olds are finishing up their first year in college.
To say that Gage Gay is in the midst of his first year at the school of hard knocks would be an understatement.
Three weeks ago, the Staley, N.C., native, took a shot to the head from a bull horn that left this year’s top rookie hesitant to ride with the same aggressive manner that elevated him to the threshold of the Top 10 in the world standings.
“I got jerked down in New Mexico,” Gay recalled, “and I think I’ve just been a little bit scared to keep going to that front throughout the ride. That’s what’s been getting me.”
Gay bruised his neck, left shoulder and sprained his left shoulder when he was hit and then hooked while being thrown from Corpus Red in the second round of a three-day event in Albuquerque, N.M.
He was unable to finish the Ty Murray Invitational and a week later he opted out of the Built Ford Tough Championship Round in Fresno, Calif., after aggravating the same injury.
He was then 0-for-3 in Nampa , Idaho, which was the second time in three weeks he left town without riding a single bull, so he hit a local practice pen back home before flying up to Billings, Mont., for stop 15 of 26.
“It showed,” Gay said of his continued effort to battle back, “I rode good.”
Gay won the 15/15 Bucking Battle on Friday when he covered Percolator for 91.5 points.
“When you’re getting bucked off and you finally do ride one, especially to be 91.5 (points) on the first one after you been falling off quite a few, I mean, it feels good,” he said. “It really boosts your confidence to the sky and you feel like you can ride anything.”
The newcomer called it a career highlight.
He finished the Billings event 2-for-4 and, more importantly, made it back to the championship round for the seventh time in the 11 events he’s competed in.
Gay is currently ranked 14th in the world.
2009 World Champion Kody Lostroh referred to Gay as one of the best young riders to come along in quite some time.
“Fundamentally he does stuff perfect,” said Lostroh, “He’s up over his rope riding where he needs to be. He’s aggressive and he makes his moves with authority. That’s something that you typically see out of a more experienced guy, but he rides like an experienced rider.”
Lostroh added, “He knows what he’s doing and that confidence shows up in his riding.”
As for Gay admitting to being hesitant – “I about got my head knocked off” – and how to stay aggressive after being been hit so hard, Lostroh said that’s not a youthful issue. Instead, it’s a lesson even veterans are reminded of from time to time.
In fact, Lostroh said, “With experience comes knowing how to get over it quicker. The fact is, in this sport you will get rattled and you have to figure out how to come back. He struggled for a couple weeks, he fixed the problem and he’s doing really good this weekend.”
Since making his BFTS debut in Anaheim, Calif., Gay has recorded five Top -10 finishes—three of which were in the Top 5, including his second-place finish in Arlington, Texas, at the Dr Pepper Iron Cowboy V.
That’s twice the first-year rider has done spectacular with a national television audience watching at home.
Gay simply nodded and said, “That makes it that much sweeter.
“I feel good.”
His injury in Albuquerque was a first, so as he gains more experience, the freshman student of the game – so to speak – will learn to compartmentalize fear and get over the mental aspect of getting injured.
As Lostroh noted, Gay will learn how to get over getting rattled.
He’s likely to get another lesson sooner rather than later being a youngster on tour.
The pressure that comes with being at the top is altogether different from anything a rider can ever experience until they’re actually in that situation.
“He’s the real deal,” Lostroh said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys come in like that – tear it up – and then they’re gone with the wind and you don’t see them again, but he looks like he’ll be here to stay.
“If he keeps riding the way he is he will learn what it’s like to compete for a world title.”
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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