OAKLAND, Calif. – Ten years ago, Neil Holmes had no real intentions of becoming a professional bull rider. The city boy from Houston was heading off to Prairie View A&M University to study agronomy and had aspirations of becoming a school teacher.
Yes, he had gotten on a couple of bulls for the first time in his life as a senior at Cleveland High School, but he still really didn’t expect a future in the sport. He figured he would end up teaching agriculture somewhere.
Yet, by the time classes began to roll around in Prairie View, Texas, Holmes was getting hungrier and hungrier to get on more bulls.
It was something foreign and unusual to him. No one in his family came from the Western background and it was a sport the 5-foot-6 track athlete decided to try after seeing some friends get on bulls. That burning desire never went away, and it eventually became a passion that helped fuel him these past 10 years with one goal in mind.
“My whole adult life bull riding had become my passion,” Holmes said. “I have been working toward the PBR since I was 18 years old. For 10 years now, it’s been my goal to be a PBR World Champion.”
The 28-year-old made his Built Ford Tough Series debut last week in Laughlin, Nevada, at the Desert Showdown. His impressive fourth-place performance (2-for-3) led to the PBR granting him an exemption to compete in the final three events of the regular season.
It was a complete change of plans for Holmes. He was spending this past Monday searching for a Touring Pro Division event to enter, in hopes of qualifying again for a future BFTS event, when Senior Vice President of Competition Jay Daugherty called and extended the invite.
“Man, it was great. I had no idea,” Holmes said. “I figured I would have to win another event to get that phone call. I didn’t think a fourth-place finish would do it. To get that call and invited to Oakland was great.”
He is the third rider to receive a three-event invite this season, following invitations to Guytin Tsosie and four-time PRCA champion J.W. Harris.
Both of those riders went through a growing process adjusting to the BFTS before settling in, and Holmes believes the biggest challenge for him will be learning more about the bulls that he will have to face.
Holmes says he is going to treat the invite as if he got a new job. He wants to make sure his fellow bull riders and fans believe he deserves to be there – beyond the efforts put forth in Laughlin, including his 84-point ride onSagebrush and 87.25-point performance on Reaganator.
“You want to go in there and let the boss know he picked the right guy and show that you can do the job,” Holmes said. “That is kind of how I am looking at it. I want everybody to know I deserve to be here.”
Holmes said he kind of “took off with bull riding on his own” and that as he started to learn more about bull riding in college, he looked up to guys such as Charlie Sampson, Myrtis Dightman, Terry Don West and Brian Canter. He especially enjoyed watching Canter, because he was a left-handed rider like himself.
Holmes has competed at the Houston Rodeo and other bull riding events over the course of his career.
He cherishes the long-awaited opportunity to compete on the BFTS. His career has been a journey full of ups and downs so far, he said. Injuries, bumps in the road, finances, college classes – he has a four-year degree in agronomy – and being a father of four have all played a role in his life.
“Bull riding is one of those things where it is good, but when it rains it pours,” Holmes said. “It costs us money to go and when you don’t win, that money goes down the drain. Sometimes I would have to limit myself and sacrifice certain things.”
Holmes says his family will always be priority No. 1 before bull riding, and that factored in to him almost walking away from the sport he loved.
“I thought about quitting several times,” Holmes said. “I am older than most of the guys. They may have been riding longer than me, but I am older than them. I have kids. I have a family and, me riding bulls, I kind of missed a lot of moments that can’t be replaced, but that is what keeps me going because it is my passion.”
Holmes was raised by his mother, Linda, and remains in contact with her on a close-to-daily basis. He credits her for instilling him the ability to succeed.
“Without my mom, I wouldn’t be riding bulls or I wouldn’t be where I am in life at all,” he said, “whether it is bull riding or anywhere.”
However, Holmes laughs when asked if she may come to one of his BFTS events. The last event he can remember her attending was in 2004 at an amateur bull riding event.
She supports him, but he understands the sport is too worrisome for her.
“Even if it comes on TV, and it could be a re-run, and I am sitting right there watching it with her, she won’t watch it, because of what may happen. I am like, ‘Hey, nothing is going to happen. I am right here next to you.’”
Holmes gets another taste of BFTS action this weekend against Slim Jack in Round 1 of the Kawasaki Strong Battle at the Bay.
Last weekend, he said he would have likely selected Bushwacker, because he knew he probably wouldn’t have another chance at facing the two-time World Champion Bull.
If he can find a way to win in Oakland, he would get his opportunity.
“To ride him, I couldn’t ever tell you how to ride him,” Holmes said. “I guess you would have to ask J.B. (Mauney) or Markus (Mariluch). I would give it everything I got.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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