SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – L.J. Jenkins’ grandmother, Kathyrn, still remembers being inside the Thomas & Mack Center cheering along her talented grandson as he went on to ride 6-of-8 bulls to win the 2006 World Finals event title.
Eight years later and Kathyrn, who will celebrate her 90th birthday Saturday, could be seen in Section D of JQH Arena watching on with pride as Jenkins earned his first BFTS victory by going 3-for-4 at the PFIWestern.com Invitational presented by Bass Pro Shops in the town where he was born and raised.
“Oh, it is so exciting, really exciting,” she said from the arena floor while Jenkins swooped across the area signing autographs. “I was kind of shocked.”
Just as excited was her grandson, who hadn’t won a BFTS event since going 3-for-3 in Kansas City, Missouri. He already had this weekend’s victory clinched before nodding his head in the Built Ford Championship Round after being the only rider to have covered two bulls through three rounds of competition.
Every other rider, including last week’s winner Chase Outlaw in 7.67 seconds, bucked off in the final round of action before Jenkins even tied his hand in.
Even so, he held onto Jack Daniel’s After Party for 8 seconds and 89.25 points to the thrill of everyone in attendance, including grandma.
“It was great,” he said. “She was supposed to come last year, but she is getting up there and has some health issues. For her to be able to come here and for me to pick up the win, hopefully it is an early birthday present for her.”
She got more than one early gift on Sunday. Minutes before she watched Jenkins ride Jack Daniel’s After Party, PBR entertainer Flint Rasmussen went over to her and presented her with a fan of the night belt buckle.
If there was any other person this weekend that got a louder ovation than Jenkins, it may have just been his grandmother.
“I just don’t know what I will do with that,” Kathryn said while glancing at the belt buckle and laughing.
It will be a special belt buckle for her, just as Jenkins will cherish the one he earned this weekend. The victory is his seventh career BFTS win and second in Missouri, a place that he still considers home despite moving to Texico, New Mexico, in eighth grade.
Jenkins was born on his father’s Strafford, Missouri, ranch – which is about 20 miles east of JHQ Arena – on July 17, 1987, and grew up in Highlandville and the Springfield area.
He still has a group of family that lives in the region, and his father could not have been prouder seeing his son standing on top of the shark cage.
“It’s great here, especially, because it’s his hometown,” Larry said. “It is grandma’s birthday and everything. It couldn’t be any better.”
On the dirt itself things went nearly flawless for Jenkins. He began the weekend with an 88-point ride on Set ‘em up Joe on Friday night and came back Saturday with a 86-point ride on Bono. His only flaw came from a 2.38-second buckoff against Dangerous Doug in the third round.
It is the first time Jenkins has covered three bulls in one event since the February BFTS event in Anaheim, California, and the Springfield victory propels him to 10th in the world standings after beginning the weekend 14th.
“To be able to put it all together at one event, especially Springfield, it feels really good,” Jenkins said. “I was born and raised here. I started out my riding career here. It is kind of cool to come back, I know I live in Oklahoma, but Missouri is where I was born and raised.”
Jenkins had begun the second half of this season with one ride in six attempts and had even tried switching to an American bull rope last week in Nashville, Tennessee. After trying the rope again during the week on some Wolf Creek & Cattle Company practice bulls at his Porum, Oklahoma, ranch he decided to switch back to his trusty Brazilian bull rope.
His dad, who rode saddle bronc, bareback and a few bulls competitively, had even joked with his son that he should try riding bareback as a way to help his bull riding skills.
“I keep kidding L.J. that he needs to get on a few of them to help him ride a few of them bulls, but he won’t get on,” he said.
Larry Sr. still remembers when his son broke his arm riding calves when he was about 6 years old.
“I was kind of hoping that would kind of scare him out and quit riding,” he said. “He told me, ‘Dad, I got to go next week, it is not my riding arm.’
“That just fired him up.”
That toughness and love for the sport blossomed into a career and a future.
Not only is Jenkins in his 10th year on the BFTS, but he also has become respected by his peers for his knowledge of bulls and aspires to continue being a stock contractor once his riding days are over. He is accustomed to strong finishes and just two years ago he concluded the season third in the world. In 2013, he finished the season ranked eighth in the world.
Jenkins credits much of that success to the family that supported him for all of these years.
“My dad and my mom, they traveled all over with me riding in Missouri,” he said. “They made sure I got where I was going. Whether it was two or three youth rodeos in one day, I was going. There are so many different youth organizations around like the AYRA (All Youth Rodeo Association) and the MJRC (Missouri Junior Rodeo Circuit) that I went to and some open deals that I always went to.
“If it wasn’t for them, my stepmom and pretty much my whole family working to get me down the road I don’t think I would be here today.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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