PUEBLO, Colo. – For the first time in 10 years, J.W. Harris will be a spectator at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
The reasoning is not because Harris failed to qualify for the NFR for lack of talent, but rather because he opted to focus full time at making a run at the PBR World Championship last season.
Normally, Harris – a four-time PRCA champion – would be a bonafide contender for the PRCA bull riding title. If he chose to pursue the rodeo grind this past season, he likely would be in search of a fifth championship.
Harris’ goal at the beginning of the year was to be standing aboard the shark cage inside the Thomas & Mack Center at the end of the 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals as a PBR World Champion for the first time.
However, when Harris arrived in Las Vegas last month for the beginning of the World Finals, he was already eliminated from the world title race.
A late-season rally that featured wins in Springfield, Missouri, and Allentown, Pennsylvania, was simply not enough for him to chase down 2015 World Champion J.B. Mauney.
Harris finished seventh in the world standings, which was an improvement from his ninth-place finish in 2014, but the end result wasn’t good enough for a World Championship or his own standards.
“If you are satisfied in not winning the world title you will never win one,” Harris said. “That is what you start out the year to accomplish is winning a world title and if you don’t accomplish that then it is not a very good year.”
Regardless of failing to win a world title, Harris proved in 2015 he can be a true contender for the PBR World Championship following nine years of competing in the PRCA.
Harris concluded the year with a career-best 29 qualified rides in 78 attempts, as well as 10 Top-10 finishes and seven Top-5 finishes.
He was able to make up from his 37.18 percent riding average, the third lowest in the Top 10, by winning six BFTS rounds, which was tied for the third most on tour.
Harris caught the attention of two-time World Champion Justin McBride during his event victory in Allentown.
“He understands how to ride (the rank ones),” McBride said. “He is not going to back down from them. He is going to crawl out between their horns. He is going to be 90.”
He did admit that when he does struggle, it usually goes back to poor feet positioning.
“Ninety percent of the time it is my damn feet,” Harris said. “I don’t turn my toes out. I have tried to get the spurs that turn in and I couldn’t do it. I tell my dad it is my dad’s fault. My dad can turn his toes out, but he would make me ride those race horses all the time (as a kid).”
Harris’ father, Mark, was also a bull rider.
The 29-year-old came into the World Finals as a potential favorite to win the event title, but he wound up going 1-for-5.
“I wasn’t worth shit,” Harris said on the last day in Vegas. “This was one to sure forget.”
Harris said repeatedly in 2015 that he didn’t make the switch to the PBR full time to prove a point to anyone that he could compete alongside the best bull riders in the world after years of competing strictly in the PRCA.
“I don’t think I get worked up over anything,” Harris said. “I don’t think I have to go out and prove anything. Donnie Gay is the one that really instilled this in me. He just said be comfortable in your own skin and prove it to yourself. He said don’t worry about what anyone else is thinking. Just do it for yourself.”
He also had reached a point in his personal life where he wanted to be able to spend more time with his wife, Jackie, and kids (Aubrey and Dillon) at home during the week.
“Last fall, I was beat all to hell,” Harris said in January. “So that was just getting on bulls pretty much every day and then the travel and stuff flat wore me down. Then, too, the money is a lot better here and you can get on better bulls consistently. Plus, it pays a lot more at the end of the year. That is what I am focused on.”
Don’t be fooled though.
It all starts from a fire within and Harris certainly has a burning desire to one day reach the pinnacle of success in the PBR.
Deep down he wants to be a PBR World Champion and receive one of the major belt buckles in all of professional bull riding that is missing from his resume.
“If you don’t want to win the world title then you are never going to win one,” Harris said. “You are just going to be a mediocre bull rider for your entire career.
“I don’t like being mediocre. I like to win.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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