KANSAS CITY, Mo. – J.W. Harris doesn’t need anyone to criticize him or point out his struggles on the Built Ford Tough Series.
Quite frankly, he is more than willing to self-analyze and has no problem calling his 2015 season what it was up until this weekend: “mediocre.”
In the minutes following his first career BFTS victory, Harris admitted that this year has not gone as planned after a strong finish at the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals put Harris as a potential 2015 world title contender among some PBR experts.
“Obviously, you need to be in the Top 5 or number one,” Harris said about what would make him feel satisfied. “I haven’t rode that good this year and it is obvious. I ride better than (being ranked) 18th. I had to pull my head out of my butt and start riding like it.”
Harris’ career-best, 3-for-3 performance at the Caterpillar Classic gave him 525 points toward the world standings and pushed him from the No. 18 spot in the world standings all the way up to No. 6.
The four-time PRCA champion was highly motivated entering the Built Ford Tough Championship Round on Sunday afternoon to make sure he came through and successfully made the 8-second mark aboard Crystal Can Do in a round that has given him fits in his brief PBR career.
Heading into Sunday, Harris was 0-for-8 in championship rounds during regular-season BFTS events since making his BFTS debut in Fresno, California, last season.
He finally broke through by riding Crystal Can Do for 88.5 points. It was his first championship-round ride outside of his 93.25-point ride on Honey Hush during last year’s World Finals.
“I like proving points,” Harris said. “It pisses you off whenever you know that you can ride every one of them bulls that are in the short round and there is a dang gone mental block there that is just a block you can’t get over.
“It feels good getting over it now.”
The ride itself was a glimpse of the confident rider that Harris is known to be, especially when he started spurring midway through the ride.
Harris couldn’t really pinpoint what led to his struggles in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round – he is now 1-for-5 in 2015.
“I don’t know if it was harder,” the 28-year-old said. “I think once I got to the short round, I was just trying way too hard and stiffing up and not riding like I normally do. The short-round bull, I cut loose and spurred him a little bit and that is the way you are supposed to do it.”
Along with the zeroes he had in the championship round, Harris also had a goose egg in the win column through his first 22 BFTS events.
He never expected it would take this long to get that long-awaited first victory.
“No, I really didn’t,” Harris admitted. “I think last year, Nampa (Idaho), was my second event when I finished second and I thought for sure I would have already had three or four wins, but now that it is here I am glad.”
Harris has become good friends with Nathan Schaper on tour, and Schaper said that he could tell all of the chatter about Harris certainly fueled him to fight to succeed.
“I think it definitely motivates him,” Schaper said. “There definitely has been a lot of talk, and I definitely know that he has a World Championship in mind for this year and this is going to get him on his way.”
CBS Sports Network color commentator J.W. Hart had high remarks about Harris in this week’s Weekend in Review.
“You knew it was inevitable, he was going to win,” Hart said. “He was going to fit in here. It took a little longer than I thought. I thought he would be a little more dominant there in the beginning, but it is good to see him coming around.”
Harris has now ridden 10-of-26 bulls this year, including Dry Fly for 86.5 points on Saturday in Round 1 and Closing Time for 86.5 points in Round 2 on Sunday. He also has finished inside the Top 10 in five of the eight BFTS events.
PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert has been a big believer in Harris and had no doubts that he would eventually pull through. Lambert added that everyone saw at World Finals how good Harris could ride and that there “isn’t much of a difference” from winning a BFTS event vs. a round at the Finals.
Harris rode Pound The Alarm for 90.5 points to win Round 5 of the 2014 Finals.
“Where he was before, he just didn’t get on a lot of those bulls, but he was very capable of riding those bulls,” Lambert said on Tuesday. “He has always been capable. It wasn’t so much an adjustment as you can say he struggled in the championship rounds because he picked tough bulls. Everything about this sport, and our points system and everything, is the riders can pick and dare the bulls to buck. They want to challenge the great ones and dare them to have their best day.
“That is what the sport is about.”
Some of the bulls that Harris has faced in past championship rounds include Mick E Mouse (twice), Long John and Beaver Creek Beau.
“You literally live and die to play this sport and you see it in his actions and his words that he speaks and his effort he puts out,” Hart added. “That is the way he is. He is a cowboy at heart and that is pretty admirable to me.”
Harris made the smart pick on Sunday and decided to select a bull he was comfortable and familiar with. He may have never faced Crystal Can Do before, but he was one of the few riders that had ever seen the bovine athlete buck in person from his days in the PRCA.
Still, there is no such thing as a gimme in the sport of professional bull riding, and Harris finally came through.
“It’s about time,” Harris said. “It’s been long overdue.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
© 2015 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.