By: Justin Felisko February 05, 2016
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – It wasn’t too long ago when one could walk into the Built Ford Tough Series locker room and pass Derek Kolbaba without blinking an eye.
That is quickly beginning to change following the 19-year-old’s fast start to the 2016 Built Ford Tough Series.
In Anaheim, Kolbaba tried to find a quiet place to stay away from all of the distractions of the locker room to get focused and ready for the final day of the Anaheim Invitational.
Cameras, microphones and everyone in between seemed to want to get a piece of the kid from Walla Walla, Washington.
In a similar way to how two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney and some other riders sit in the solitude of the back showers, Kolbaba found a corner nook in between the main hallway of the Honda Center and the locker room to begin stretching.
However, unlike the shower stalls which are normally out of sight in the locker room, Kolbaba was right in the way of every one walking into the locker room as he leaned down to stretch out his hamstrings.
It wouldn’t be more than five or so minutes before someone would come up to talk to the No. 7 rider in the world standings that has taken the PBR by storm in just five career events.
Cooper Davis, the 2015 World Finals event winner, was getting his own rope ready while a CBS camera focused in on Kolbaba.
“He deserves it,” Davis said. “The kid can ride. He is riding real good.”
Kolbaba’s latest impact moment came last weekend when he rode DaNutso for 89.75 points to win the 15/15 Bucking Battle.
“To go against the Top 15 guys in the world and actually come out on top was pretty cool for me,” Kolbaba said.
The young man is trying to take his dad, Kyle’s advice to heart. Kyle competed as a professional bull rider in the PRCA and told his son to keep it all “between his ears and focus.”
“Oh yeah, exactly. This is the biggest level in bull riding, but in the end it is still just riding bulls,” Kolbaba said. “If I can keep it simple and stay to the basics and not let everything else get to me, then everything else should work out.”
Kolbaba has caught the attention of a national audience on CBS last week with his calm demeanor and wide-eyed joy of competing on the PBR’s biggest stage.
Kolbaba competed last year at the 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals after earning a wild card spot through the BlueDEF Finals and has continued to progress in his early career development.
He is 6-for-11 in three 2016 BFTS events, but has absolutely crushed it on the BlueDEF Tour and Touring Pro Division. He won three consecutive events in those tours earlier this month before returning to the BFTS in Oklahoma City. Kolbaba is No. 1 in the BlueDEF standings after going 7-for-11 in the PBR’s second-level tour.
Kolbaba is 16-for-27 (59.26 percent) on all three tours.
Through it all, Kolbaba has stayed pretty low key, which is something he credits his parents for instilling in him.
The fourth generation cowboy comes from a long heritage in rodeo. Not only was his dad a bareback rider, but his mom, Sandi Rowe, raced barrel horses, his grandparents helped organized PRCA rodeos and his great grandfather Harley Tucker hauled bulls to the National Finals Rodeo when it used to be hosted in Oklahoma City.
Kolbaba says his mother pushes him a little harder on a day-to-day basis, while his dad is the fiery competitor of the two parents.
Both, though, are responsible for instilling their son with the humble cowboy values he has brought to the PBR thus far.
“They have always kept me level-headed,” he said. “They are good at reminding me that it doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, it is today.”
Today, Kolbaba will begin the Sacramento Invitational against Blowing Smoke (2-1, BFTS) in Round 1 before squaring off against Bottoms Up (6-5, BFTS) in Round 2. Kolbaba rode Bottoms Up for 87 points in Anaheim.
Kolbaba has also credited such veteran riders as Shane Proctor for taking him under their wings and showing him the ropes.
“I have been rooming with him a little bit and everybody around here,” Kolbaba said. “It is great to have that atmosphere. When you surround yourself with winners here that it soon what you are going to turn out to be. It is great to be at this level with the guys that are here.”
By the end of this weekend, Kolbaba will likely have an official seat on the BFTS following the first BFTS cutline where five spots in the draw will be awarded to the Top 5 riders in the 2016 world standings that did not place in the Top 30 of the final 2015 standings.
With the official ranking comes Kolbaba’s official designation as a 2016 Rookie of the Year contender.
“That would be awesome to win,” Kolbaba said. “Anytime you are up for something like that. That is something you can only do once.”
“We will sure give it a whirl this year. Hopefully by the end of it, I will have a buckle.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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