By: Justin Felisko
May 20, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – Jess Lockwood will already be a superstar among his high school peers on June 8 when he steps foot inside the Fallon County Fairgrounds in Baker, Montana, for the 2016 Montana High School Rodeo State Finals.
Despite standing only 5-foot-5-inches and weighing 130 pounds, Lockwood will be an intimidating presence among his high school challengers, including his brother, Jake, when the bull riding competition gets underway next month.
Now just imagine what the kids will think if Jess arrives in Baker fresh off an 8-second ride on Jared Allen’s Air Time at the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge BlueDEF Tour event on June 4?
“Our high school state finals is June 8-11, so that is a couple of days before state and I was thinking, ‘How cool would that be?’ Lockwood said. “To go into the state rodeo and be like, ‘Yeah, I just rode Air Time last weekend and here I am.”
Lockwood made those comments before the final night of competition in Las Vegas at Last Cowboy Standing last weekend. At the time, Lockwood hadn’t put much thought into the possibility of facing Air Time later that night in Round 3, and he was cheerful and excited about the $50,000 Young Gun Challenge Hart had invited him to.
That was before Air Time demolished the PBR rookie in 2.66 seconds in a reminder that the rising star still does not have the rankest bull in the world’s number just yet.
Lockwood, currently 15th in the world standings, now wants a rematch not just for bragging rights, but also for some revenge after the black and white spotted bull embarrassed him on national CBS television.
“That bull is definitely strong,” Lockwood said on the PBR LIVE post-show. “He is really strong right out of there. It felt like he was getting his feet behind me and I tried to stick my chest out and almost lean back a little to get my feet back under me, as soon as I did that his back kind of hit me and he really jerked me forward and made me look stupid.”
Lockwood will compete in Decatur, Texas, against Cooper Davis, Derek Kolbaba, Jorge Valdiviezo and Kurt Shephard in a special bonus round for $10,000 following the regular BlueDEF Tour event. The winner of the bonus round will get a crack at Air Time for an additional $50,000.
“Air Time is going to be there again, so I am looking forward to that,” Lockwood said.
Hart confirmed on Friday afternoon that Shephard is replacing Mason Lowe (wrist injury) in the event.
All of the action will be streamed exclusively on PBR LIVE.
Decatur will be the beginning of a busy summer for Lockwood, who also will serve as an instructor at the first-ever PBR Academy at Cody Lambert’s Bowie, Texas, ranch on July 12-14.
Lockwood has been mentored by Lambert, as well as two-time World Champion Justin McBride, since he moved to Lambert’s ranch in February. Lockwood will now be able to pay it forward to another group of young bull riders.
“When I go there, I knew how to ride,” Lockwood said. “The thing they really stressed to me, and really improved my success was the mental aspect of it, which I think in bull riding is the most important part of being successful.”
In regards to Air Time, Lockwood mentally was far from satisfied. He also was physically sore from such a strong buckoff. Lockwood’s Last Cowboy Standing elimination left a sour taste in the rookie’s mouth despite a 2-for-3 showing in his first PBR Major event.
“Not good enough,” Lockwood said. “I am not satisfied with it. When you show up, you are supposed to ride them all and you are supposed to have that attitude. Even though I got on the best bull in the world, you are supposed to go ride those. You are not the best until you ride those bulls. I still have a little ways to go.”
McBride and Hart both loved seeing the 18-year-old kid ticked off about not being able to ride him in his first attempt.
That kind of attitude is what McBride and Hart were used to seeing and being a part of in the locker room during their riding days.
“I think that is definitely the right attitude,” McBride said. “Jess wants to obviously be the World Champion bull rider and in the PBR to become that you have to ride the rank bulls. Jess definitely got on the rankest bull in the world in Air Time. That bull to me is a full point better, at least, than anything else we have seen this season. He had a great trip with Jess.
“The kid is a senior in high school and he just got on the rankest bull there is to date and he went at him.”
Lockwood’s facial expression as he picked himself up off the dirt at the Las Vegas Village was a mixture of frustration, anger and awe at the power behind Air Time.
That kind of emotion and determination is why Hart wanted to invite the group of young guns to Decatur in the first place. Hart said Lockwood put forth a “great effort” and believed all of the young guns had earned the right to be front and center for his summer event.
“He had that grit in his teeth and you could tell he was upset about it,” Hart said. “He knew he could do better and wanted to do better. That is where I look at a lot of the kids. Their facial expressions, their eyes and their determination. He didn’t make the whistle and I like what I had seen.”
Air Time was marked 47.5 points and finished the first half 6-0 with an average bull score of 45.83 points per out. He has been ridden only once in 28 career outs at all levels of PBR competition.
Hart agreed with McBride that Air Time solidified himself as the rankest bull going on the Built Ford Tough Series.
“That was probably the best trip I have seen out of Air Time,” Hart said. “That bull kept his feet. He was coming around and he wasn’t slipping. He didn’t blunder at the gate. I thought Lockwood had a good seat at him. I thought he got his free arm a little bit behind, but he probably isn’t used to a bull with that much power and kick.”
If Lockwood can outlast the other riders in the Young Gun Challenge, Hart believes Lockwood may have an advantage on them when it comes to Air Time because he will have learned how the bovine feels underneath him.
A little correction here and there, and Lockwood may be able to make a thunderous bull ride, added Hart.
“If he wins the match, he will have a little bit of an advantage of being on him once,” Hart said. “You won’t know what to expect, but he will know how he feels. I had seen a picture where Lockwood was hanging on with his arm and it was almost like he was looking to the outside, but it was the bull had his head up and his chest exposed.
“With a couple of little adjustments in one jump there, and that will make it a lot more interesting real quick.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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