By: Justin Felisko
January 14, 2016
NEW YORK – J.W. Harris was sitting in the stands at the Thomas & Mack Center this past December with his wife, Jackie, when he felt a sudden pain inside him during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
It wasn’t a physical pain, but rather homesickness.
Harris had competed in the previous nine Wrangler National Finals Rodeo’s and was always a perennial contender to win the PRCA’s bull riding championship.
Although in 2015, the four-time PRCA champion put all of his eggs in the PBR basket.
“Last year, being away from it all year, I wasn’t really missing rodeo a whole lot, but, shoot, I went out there to the NFR and I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a year,” Harris said. “I kind of realized that I did miss it, so I figured I might as well give it a shot and see what happens.”
Harris has decided he doesn’t want to give up on his NFR dreams nor his PBR gold buckle aspirations in 2016.
Instead, he wants to become the first rider to win both prestigious championships in the same season.
“Well yeah, that would be the ultimate goal obviously,” said Harris, who began his PRCA season Wednesday night in Odessa, Texas. “It sure would be pretty good. That would be cool. That would be something.”
Harris will continue his hunt for a PBR world title on Friday night in New York with the Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden, which is the first PBR Major of the season.
The 29-year-old is slated to face Off The Grid (8-1, BFTS) in Round 1 and will then take on Like a Boss (1-0, BFTS) in the 15/15 Bucking Battle.
Fellow BFTS rider Shane Proctor, who won the PRCA title in 2011 and finished last year third at the NFR, also hopes to pull off the historic accomplishment this season.
“That is my ultimate goal,” Proctor said. “That is something nobody else has done. That would signify your aspect in the sport. That is what I work so hard for. Hopefully someday I get that accomplished here soon.”
Proctor is competing in Odessa on Thursday night with Markus Mariluch. The two will then make the 5-hour drive to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport for an early morning flight to New York on Friday.
Tuff Hedeman is the only rider to have won both a PBR World Championship and PRCA title in his career.
“Hell, just to win a PBR world title and have a PRCA title also would be pretty special,” Harris said. “Tuff is the only one to do that, I think. It would be a pretty cool deal to go in the history books with two buckles like that.”
Harris competed in both the PRCA and PBR in 2014, when he made his BFTS debut. However, he had modest success on the BFTS until placing third at the World Finals to finish ninth in the world standings.
He concluded the 2014 rodeo season ninth in the PRCA standings.
“I think with my deal it was just it was kind of a bad break really,” Harris said. “I caused it myself. I got beat up there in Springfield. I came into the second half of the year healthy. I got knocked out in Springfield (by SweetPro’s Long John) and my back was messed up, and it didn’t help trying to go already hurt.”
On the other side of the coin, 2015 was a strong showing by Harris in the PBR. The May, Texas, cowboy won the Springfield event and put together a late-season rally to try and catch eventual World Champion J.B. Mauney.
He concluded the year seventh in the world standings and finished with a career-high 29 qualified rides in 78 attempts, as well as 10 Top-10 finishes and seven Top-5 finishes. He also won the third-most BFTS rounds with six.
Still, it wasn’t all rosy for Harris in 2015.
Harris finished the season with a 37.18 percent riding average, the third lowest among riders in the Top 10, and was known for going through extreme cold spells.
He had one buckoff streak of seven in a row and another that lasted nine straight. Then there were multiple streaks of three and four.
Harris hopes he can nip those streaks in the bud by getting back to the rodeo grind during the week.
“I think just the more bulls I get on, the better I ride,” Harris said. “It is hard to get on a lot of bulls whenever you are just coming to Built Ford Tough events. You are just getting on a couple of bulls a weekend here and there. You go to struggling a little bit at them deals and it is hard to break that slump. So I figured to start rodeoing, and try and keep those streaks of 10 buckoffs down and not have more.
“You are not going to ride everything. It has never happened and it never will be. So you just have to try and keep them (cold streaks) at a minimum.”
Proctor believes Harris is a better bull rider the more he gets on.
“He is a real tough competitor,” Proctor said. “I think the more he gets on, the better he is. When he gets comfortable and gets on a roll he is really hard to beat, especially away from his hand. There are not many guys that ride bulls away from the hand – to the left for him – like he does.”
Proctor added that it takes a special competitor to successfully pull off riding in the PBR and PRCA.
“You have to make the PBR your first priority and fit everything else in there,” he said. “It is two big puzzles. You really have to work. A lot of people think it is easy and it is not. There is a reason so few guys have done it in the last 10 years and that is because you really have to take care of yourself and push yourself and be smart about it.”
Harris, now in his third BFTS season, said he has plans to pull back on the rodeo grind once he has a qualifying spot for the NFR locked down.
“Obviously this is the main focus,” Harris said. “If there gets to a point where I know I have the (NFR) Finals made, I will pull back and just go to this. My goal is to make the NFR. With as much money is added there, I think I can come from 15th to win the world. I am not going to say easily, but a hell of a lot easier than it used to be. No lead going into the NFR is safe anymore.”
And if he could only win one title this season?
“PBR for sure,” Harris concluded. “Yeah, the $1 million would be awesome to have, but just to have a World Championship buckle in PRCA and PBR. That would be probably the one I want the most right now. The PBR one.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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