PUEBLO, Colo. – There comes a point in every bull rider’s career where everything seems to start coming together.
For Chase Outlaw, that may have been the case during the latter half of the 2014 Built Ford Tough Series as the 22-year-old from Hamburg, Arkansas, earned his first win in two years, won the 15/15 Bucking Battle in Laughlin, Nevada, and finished 11-for-30 in the final 10 events of the 2014 season.
If he can build off of that 36.67 percent riding average from the second half, he may be able to finish inside the Top 10 of the world standings for the first time in his career come next year.
“Man, I finally just got used to this,” said Outlaw, who finished in third place this weekend at the PBR Canadian Finals. “The nerves of the Built Ford Tough ain’t getting to me no more. I am just relaxed now. I was happy with the (season); I just didn’t have the Finals that I wanted.”
Outlaw concluded the 2014 season with the exact same number of rides (19) and attempts (66) as he did in 2013, except this year he competed in one fewer event. He finished 16th in the world in 2014 and posted two Top-5 finishes and placed inside the Top-10 on six occasions.
He will be entering his fourth season on the BFTS in 2015 and says that 2014 was about finally understanding how to balance the internal pressures bull riders can sometimes put on themselves.
He said that during his rookie year (2012), he didn’t pay much attention to the cameras or the pressure because he was so enthralled with finally making it on tour. However, once he came back for his sophomore season, he said that is when he started feeling the pressure of trying to live up to the expectations of being a BFTS rider.
“The first year you don’t realize the nerves because you are just there having fun, and the next year you come in and then it sort of starts,” he said. “That next year you are like, ‘Whoa, I am here’ and then you start thinking, ‘Whoa, I really am here.’
“You just have to keep going at it having fun. You have to believe in yourself and have fun. That is how you got here.”
Outlaw is one of the fun, outgoing guys in the locker room, who is always joking around and having a good time with his buddies. He tries to have that lighthearted mentality to help stay relaxed when it comes time to ride and it certainly paid off when he won the Jack Daniel’s Invitational in Nashville, Tennessee, this past September.
“Being up on the shark cage is the place to be,” said a proud Outlaw after reminiscing on the win at the San Diego BlueDEF Velocity Tour event.
Childhood friend and travel partner Reese Cates has known Outlaw since he was 3 years old and was returning to the BFTS for the first time in six months in Nashville. He said that the biggest change he has noticed in Outlaw is that the bull rider is more willing to listen to his body and take a break when he is injured compared to past years.
“It takes a couple of years for a guy to come into his own,” Cates said. “I think one of the main things I have seen that has benefitted him so much is the fact that when he gets hurt, instead of trying to keep riding through the pain and injuries and making things worse, he has been going home, letting things heal up and then coming back confident, feeling good.”
That is exactly what Outlaw had to do at the end of the first half when he missed the final five BFTS events prior to the summer break because of a strained right groin. He was ranked 30th in the world standings and was stuck in a 1-for-11 funk.
He eventually returned to win the Ty Pozzobon Invitational in Merritt, British Columbia, with a 91-point ride on Team Paige and would go on to win four consecutive PBR Canada events.
“Sometimes when you do start getting down on yourself, sometimes the best thing is to go home for a few days and take a deep breath,” Outlaw said. “Two days of being at the house on a Friday and Saturday and you start thinking, ‘Dang, I wish I was at a bull riding.”
Outlaw transitioned his summer success into that strong second-half performance. It is likely that if not for missing those five BFTS events, Outlaw may have finished the year inside the Top 10 of the world standings and set a new career-high for rides.
But it all comes back to having fun, which is something that Outlaw admits sometimes can get lost amidst the frustration that comes with bucking off during a tough day at the office.
“We got here from just having fun and showing up,” Outlaw said. “We might get bucked off, but we still love to stick our hand in the rope. We might be all pissed off and throwing a fit, but that is because we don’t like losing.
“When we win, that is what we ride bulls for. There is not better feeling in the world like it.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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