By: Justin Felisko
January 24, 2017
PUEBLO, Colo. – Derek Kolbaba was running around like a chicken with his head cut off at the conclusion of the Express Employment Professionals Invitational this past Sunday in Oklahoma City.
The 20-year-old had just ridden SweetPro’s Bruiser for a career-high 92 points and had been mobbed by his good friend and current world leader Jess Lockwood on the dirt following his second career victory.
Kolbaba was then being rushed over to CBS Sports Network’s Leah Garcia for a post-event interview, then drug on top of the shark cage for a belt buckle presentation before finally taking care of multiple radio interview requests.
Meanwhile, Kolbaba – thrilled about his first event victory of the season – really just wanted to get the hell out of Chesapeake Energy Arena so that he could catch a ride to Will Roger’s Airport in time for his 6 p.m. flight.
Unfortunately, Kolbaba went on to buck off for the first time all weekend.
Kolbaba arrived at the airport 6 minutes too late to check his bag and wound up missing his flight home to Walla Walla, Washington.
Therefore, instead of being stuck in Oklahoma City for another night, Kolbaba decided to hop in the truck with Lockwood and make the 2 and ½ hour drive back to Texas Sunday night.
Lockwood then brought Kolbaba to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport Monday.
Despite winning $45,078.97 in Oklahoma City, Kolbaba made sure to keep his wallet in his pocket when it came time to stop at the gas station.
“I said, ‘Hell bud, I remember how much you won a couple of weeks ago, so you will be alright,” Kolbaba said, referencing Lockwood’s $117,000 PBR Major victory in New York.
It was almost too fitting for Kolbaba to miss his flight home on Sunday.
Kolbaba had nearly missed the first round of the Built Ford Tough Series event Saturday night because of flight issues in Salt Lake City.
Once he got to The Sooner State, though, Kolbaba was close to flawless.
He began his weekend with an 85.5-point ride on JJ in Round 1. Kolbaba followed that with an 80.75-point ride on Red Moon Sunday afternoon in Round 2 to clinch the top pick in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round draft.
Kolbaba then impressed nine-time World Champion Ty Murray by going toe-to-toe against Bruiser – the reigning World Champion Bull – for 92 points.
“Man, this is what bull riding at the highest level is,” Murray said during the CBS Sports Network broadcast. “Whenever you see a guy get on a rank bull like this, you never say it is a lock, but he just keeps going for it. He keeps fighting for that position that he knows he has to be in. That is the essence of this sport right here. That was spectacular.”
Fighting to finish.
Those three words have been key for Kolbaba during his second full season on the Built Ford Tough Series.
Lockwood said that is the biggest change he has noticed in Kolbaba compared to their rookie years.
“He is finishing a lot more like (Cody) Lambert and I have talked about,” Lockwood said. “He is wanting it more. He is really wanting to ride and he is finishing strong.”
Kolbaba agreed and said, “A lot of it this year is just focusing on finishing my bulls. Making sure not only I get the whistle, but try to get the whistle and get a good get off. Not trying to put myself in bad a spot. I am reminding myself to ride for 10 seconds and finish these bulls.”
Lockwood was screaming his 19-year-old lungs out on the back of the bucking chute during Kolbaba’s career-high 92 point ride.
“It is pretty cool when you get done and you see your buddies on the back of the bucking chutes throwing their hats into the arena and jumping down to congratulate you,” Kolbaba said. “It just kind of shows the camaraderie of the sport.”
The idea of finishing has been a message stressed at PBR Academy by Lambert and various guest instructors, including CBS Sports Network commentator J.W. Hart.
“The one thing we focus on, and just hound the kids and the students, is to finish,” Hart said. “It doesn’t matter if it is finishing the job of digging post holes. Finish what you are doing. Finish the ride. Finish the event. I was proud to see Derek Kolbaba come in here and make the whistle. Get one down. Get two down. He had it won and he didn’t have to make the whistle to win, but he finished the job and he finished the task at hand.
“It will go a long ways with him.”
Kolbaba is finishing and thriving alongside Lockwood.
He is up to third in the world standings and trails his good pal by 275 points in the world standings ahead of this weekend’s Frontier Communications Sacramento Clash.
The No. 1 and No. 3 bull riders in the world became friends early on last season and have been rooming with each other on the road so far this this year.
“Like they have said for years now, winners travel with winners and losers travel with losers,” Kolbaba said. “Someone like Jess, we are feeding off each other every weekend. If he rides good, that is pushing me to be that much better and vice versa. Coming back to the hotel, we come back and get our minds right for the next night and get ready to do business.”
After qualifying for the 2015 PBR World Finals as a wild card, Kolbaba concluded his 2016 rookie season 17th in the world standings.
Kolbaba began the first half of 2016 with his first 15/15 Bucking Battle (Anaheim, California) and event victory (Des Moines, Iowa), but he ended the season with 24 consecutive buckoffs.
In fact, the first three winners this season – Lockwood, Rubens Barbosa and Kolbaba – went 1-for-16 at the 2016 Finals.
“A lot of it this year is having that confidence and just putting out the effort,” Kolbaba said. “I know there were a lot of bull rides last season that came up short at the six or 7 hole. I don’t want to be that guy that is oh yeah he rides great for 7 seconds and then he bucks off.”
Kolbaba had 10 buckoffs at 6 seconds or later in 2016.
He is confident that he will finish 2017 much better this time around.
“It is having a clear mind this year,” Kolbaba concluded. “I know going in that if I give 110 percent every bull I get on, it is going your way a lot more than it is not.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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