Kolbaba’s Washington Roots get him back on Track

By: Justin Felisko
March 14, 2017

Derek Kolbaba jumped up to sixth in the world standings after his Little Rock victory. Photo: Andy Watson /

PUEBLO, Colo. – Way before he was the No. 6 bull rider in the world standings, Derek Kolbaba would go to a small ranch out in Prosser, Washington, to practice his craft.

The teenage, scrawny Kolbaba would pull up to the Wentz Bucking Bulls ranch to attempt some of the best bulls he could possibly get on in the Pacific Northwest.

In fact, Kolbaba remembers staring at a 3-year-old chocolate brown gargantuan by the name of Cochise when he was still an aspiring professional bull rider with World Championship aspirations.

“He was HUGE,” Kolbaba recalled this past weekend in North Little Rock, Arkansas. “I was like there is no way he is 3. It is pretty cool to get him rode here and have this memory.”

Kolbaba rode Cochise for 89.5 points during the Built Ford Tough Championship Round to win his second event of the season.

He joins Eduardo Aparecido (3) and Jess Lockwood (2) as the only riders to win multiple events this season.

Kolbaba is the fourth rider in 24 outs to make 8 seconds on Cochise. Gene Owen and Jane Clark’s bovine athlete had bucked off 17 riders in a row on the BFTS.

“That is a bull I have known since I was a baby,” Kolbaba said. “He grew up there at the Wentz ranch. Then I saw Gene bought him, and he was going to be with us every weekend. I knew if they left me with him I would pick him and it is pretty special to get it rode.”

The Walla Walla, Washington, bull rider entered the championship round in 12th place after riding Taboo for 84.5 points in Round 2.

“I knew Cochise was going to be strong and out there a few and turn back to the left,” Kolbaba said. “Sure enough, he did. It was a fight from the start. I knew if I kept my hand shut and in the middle it would work out.

“That bull bucks and you are going to have to make sure you do everything right to get him rode. If you put it together, it can be a big score.”

How pumped was Kolbaba?

Well, he accidently tossed his helmet into the crowd during his celebration.

“Luckily, I got it back,” Kolbaba said amidst a fit of laughter.

CBS Sports Network commentator J.W. Hart called the ride an “excellent” one.

“If I rode that good, I would have picked him too,” Hart joked. “He just took all of the power away from this bull. He broke over the hips and got over that front end, staying square. He is never ahead of him. He is never behind him. He is in perfect time. He gets to working that outside foot. When this bull comes around, he gets pretty good to ride for him.”

It isn’t the first time Kolbaba got a monumental ride with ties to Wentz.

Kolbaba’s first ride at the PBR World Finals in 2015 was 85.75 points on Wentz’s Long Haired Outlaw.

“If they are bucking bulls, I will go out there and get on some practice bulls,” Kolbaba said. “It is pretty cool to know such great people like that.”

Kolbaba has credited the Wentz family for helping him become a professional and 2017 has turned into a potential breakout year for the 20-year-old.

He still talks to Craig on a frequent basis, and Kolbaba appreciates the advice he receives.

“Craig is quiet, but he is pretty wise when he talks,” Kolbaba said. “Any time I can talk with him on the bucking chutes (is helpful). The biggest thing with him is he tells me to believe in myself. I already know how to do it and just need to let it happen.”

He had previously been mired in a 1-for-15 slump prior to this weekend since riding SweetPro’s Bruiser for a career-high 92 points to win in Oklahoma City in January.

“Man, it is not easy to just say, ‘Hell, I bucked off 10 bulls. It is time to pull it together,’” Kolbaba said. “It is just part of the sport. Everybody says it is 99 percent and it is the truth.”

Kolbaba was willing to call the ride the best of his brief career.

“I guess really, this probably means a little more than Bruiser, seeing as I saw him go as a youngin,” Kolbaba added.

Hart agreed that the ride was better than Kolbaba’s masterpiece on Bruiser.

“This one doesn’t have a set pattern,” Hart said. “He hits the ground a lot harder. This bull is harder to ride than Bruiser I believe.”

Kolbaba admitted crashing back down to the perils of bull riding gloom was a frustrating reality, especially when you consider he ended last season with 24 consecutive buckoffs last season that put a huge damper on what started out to be such a promising 2016 season.

He has since jumped back up to sixth in the world standings and is within 1,365 points of world leader Aparecido heading into this weekend’s Ty Murray Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“You have to block it all out – all the other stuff and people telling you bucked off 12 bulls or whatever – and focus on the next one,” Kolbaba concluded.

“It all starts with one.”

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko

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