ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Derek Kolbaba was starting to warm the rosin on his bull rope with his left hand, while “Bad to the Bone” began blaring through the PPL Center loudspeakers.
Two chutes behind him, 2013 World Champion and world leader J.B. Mauney was clamping down aboard Tattoo and finishing up his own pre-chute procedure.
In just a few minutes, Kolbaba was set to make his Built Ford Tough Series debut after one of the PBR’s most popular riders nodded his head for the gate.
If there were any first-time nerves for the 19-year-old then they just got multiplied for the young man from Walla Walla, Washington, that looked up to riders like Mauney and Shane Proctor as a kid.
Mauney’s own 3.04-second buckoff against Tattoo didn’t faze Kolbaba though, and the rookie bull rider came through with the first qualified ride of his career – a simple 82.25 point ride on Rojo.
“Oh yeah, I was just trying to focus on me and get myself ready,” Kolbaba said. “This whole experience was great.”
Rojo didn’t pose much of a challenge to Kolbaba, who earned the opportunity to compete in Allentown with a victory at the BlueDEF Velocity Tour event in Pendleton, Oregon, last week.
“I try and focus on what I need to do and keep things simple,” he said. “He went away from my hand. Just a nice pretty, little bull. It was pretty good to get that first one down. It wasn’t much, but I was happy to get him rode and I am ready for tomorrow.”
Kolbaba said he enjoyed being able to begin the event second behind Mauney.
“You can’t not go for J.B.,” Kolbaba said. “He is one of the rankest bull riders I have ever seen.”
Kolbaba added he felt much less stressed about making his BFTS debut this weekend because there was a familiar face in the locker room.
The 2013 Washington High School State Bull Riding Champion has been a participant at Proctor’s annual bull riding school since he was 15 years old.
“I went to his school that he puts on up there in Washington for quite a few years, and it is always nice to have people you look up to and have them help you and want you to do great too,” Kolbaba said.
Proctor wasn’t ready to take any kudos for helping groom Kolbaba into a potential BFTS rider.
However, the No. 15 ranked bull rider has been on high Kolbaba for the past few years.
“He is just a young kid that tries real hard,” Proctor said. “He really is athletic as far as bull riding goes. He is real gumby and kind of reminds me of J.B., and he just really shoves his hips. I have just been really impressed with him since he was 15 years old. He has been to my bull riding school three times, but I can’t say I ever taught him anything. It all came natural to him. He developed his own style and it works for him.”
Kolbaba comes from a family with rich rodeo background.
His father Kyle, is a former PRCA bull rider and his mother, Sandi Rowe, is a former barrel racer.
Sandi is the granddaughter of the late legendary stock contractor Harley Tucker.
Kolbaba is currently ninth in Allentown and has a chance to qualify for his first Built Ford Tough Championship Round if he can make 8 seconds aboard Dracula (5-2, BFTS).
There is also an outside chance that a strong weekend in Allentown, paired with a good performance at the BlueDEF Velocity Tour Finals two weeks from now in Louisville, Kentucky, could help the No. 56 ranked bull rider qualify for the Built Ford Tough World Finals.
All of the riders competing in Allentown on the bubble for qualifying for the Finals – riders ranked 34-41 – all bucked off in Round 1.
Kolbaba is 280 points behind No. 36 Lachlan Richardson.
“I think he is going to go a long ways in this sport,” Proctor said. “He is still really young. He has accomplished a lot already at a young age. He is a really good kid and is really self-driven. He is going to get bumps and bruises along the way, but if he can keep fighting through them I expect big things from him.”
Kolbaba first needs to get through his second-round bull Saturday, which will be the complete opposite for Kolbaba compared to Friday as he is the last rider out in Round 2 – a position that Mauney has held many times in his career.
“Let’s get another one rode tomorrow and plan for being in that short round,” Kolbaba concluded.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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