PUEBLO, Colo. – Derek Kolbaba’s most vivid World Finals memory was when Justin McBride hung off the side of Camo in 2007 to win the PBR World Championship.
It is arguably one of the most historic moments of the PBR’s 17-year history at the Thomas & Mack Center, which is hosting the World Finals for the last time next week.
“I have no idea. I can’t remember that long ago,” Kolbaba responded at the BlueDEF Finals what his favorite World Finals memory as a kid growing up in Walla Walla, Washington, was. “Probably when Justin McBride hung off the side of Camo for $1 million. That is grit and that showed a lot.”
Kolbaba was 7 years old at the time.
Even before the now 19-year-old went 2-for-3 at the BlueDEF Finals to finish eighth in the event average and earn one of the World Finals qualification spots up for grabs for non-Top 35 riders, Kolbaba had quickly caught the eye of the Built Ford Tough Series locker room.
Kolbaba nearly became the first rider in two years to cover Buck Dynasty before being bucked off in 7.07 seconds in his BFTS debut three weeks ago in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“My dad always told me ever since I was real little that try will get you quite a bit further than talent,” Kolbaba said. “I guess talent will only get you so far, so I guess I kind of always took that to heart. If you got a little bit of talent and a whole lot of try it will take you pretty far.”
Derek’s father, Kyle, used to ride professionally in the PRCA.
Shane Proctor – the last man to have ridden Buck Dynasty, and one of two riders to have conquered Buck Dynasty in 41 BFTS outs – thought for sure the three-time participant at his Grand Coulee, Washington, bull riding school was about to convert on a memorable championship round ride.
He has been highly impressed with Kolbaba’s try.
“He is just a young kid that tries real hard,” Proctor said. “He really is athletic as far as bull riding goes.”
It wasn’t only Proctor that was left impressed by the young bull rider with blonde hair that has jokingly been compared to Justin Bieber at PBR events.
Kolbaba’s own grit and determination was one that caught the attention of four-time PRCA champion J.W. Harris.
“Shoot, I was impressed with Derek Kolbaba,” Harris said in Allentown. “He freaking stepped up there. In a bull rider’s mind, he rode the crap out of Buck Dynasty. Heck, I think they should have gave him a score.”
Kolbaba said, “Nobody wanted that bull that night and I just kind of barely squeaked in there and I was able to get on him,” Kolbaba said. “Maybe next time.”
Kolbaba is about to have plenty of opportunities to face additional rank bulls when he makes his Built Ford Tough World Finals debut next week in Las Vegas.
He is guaranteed to face at least five of the rankest bulls in the world during the five-day competition at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“Once I found out it was a for sure deal, and they called me to go, it hit me pretty well right there,” Kolbaba said. “Now I have to get myself ready to do what I have been doing all year to get there.”
The past few days have been a whirlwind for Kolbaba, who was a guest on Western Sports Roundup on SiriusXM’s RURAL RADIO Monday.
Kolbaba plans on taking some time out of the next few days to get on his drop barrel at home before driving to Las Vegas on Sunday night.
He is ready to show the world what he is capable of, but he certainly will be arriving in Las Vegas with close to the bare minimum of BFTS experience.
Kolbaba went 1-for-3 in Allentown in his only event and is a combined 25-for-78 (32.05 percent) in 36 non-BFTS events this year.
“It dang sure is a huge step for me and I am just trying to keep my mind focused on what I am there to do and not get shell shocked,” Kolbaba said. “The stage is for dang sure a lot bigger than I ever been on before. It is going to be pretty fun. I am pretty excited about it.”
Gage Gay competed at the World Finals last year as a wide-eyed 20-year-old and said he is looking forward to seeing what Kolbaba may do when thrust into the spotlight.
“I have known Derek for a couple of years now and ever since the first time I had seen him I had said, ‘Man that kid can ride,’” Gay said. “He does it real correct when he does and he looks real good. I think he will do really good.”
Gay, Kolbaba, Kaique Pacheco, Cooper Davis are the four youngest World Finals qualifiers and are all 21 years or younger.
Kolbaba heads into Finals ranked 50th in the world standings and is 313.75 points behind No. 35 Douglas Duncan.
The first-time World Finals qualifier would obviously love to win the World Finals event title, but he also is hoping to earn enough points to crack The Top 35 of the world standings and guarantee himself at least five BFTS events for the beginning of 2016.
“That is definitely a goal of mine,” he said. “If I can go down there and ride the bulls they put underneath me, then everything else will fall into place. I would love to come back and be seeded in there with the Top 35 guys in the world. That is a dream come true right there. If I can go down to the Finals and put some money in my pocket and a whole bunch of points I will be happy.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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