BILLINGS, Mont. – Nathan Schaper was receiving his event-winning belt buckle and doing an in-arena interview Sunday afternoon when J.W. Harris glanced up at the big screen from deep behind the rider walkout.
The tough-nose Texan and No. 9 bull rider in the world had a slight smile crease his grizzled beard while Schaper talked about winning the second-event of his career with his own bashful North Dakota smile radiating across his clean-shaven face inside Rimrock Auto Arena.
Harris, standing by himself, listened on intently and looked on like a proud older brother.
“How about Schaper?” Harris said. “Shoot that was good. I don’t know. He is going to be tough to beat. He is riding really good right now. I guess if I can’t win, I rather see him win.
“It is fun watching your good friend win.”
Schaper’s 4-for-4 performance in Billings helped the Grassy Butte, North Dakota, native jump to seventh in the world standings after earning 460 points in Billings.
The 6-foot-1 bull rider didn’t use any flashiness or superhuman powers to take the event crown. Instead, Schaper did what he does best – make 8 seconds.
He used consistency all weekend to head into the Built Ford Tough Championship Round leading the event average after riding Toby (83.25 points), Westley’s Pet (84.5 points) and Slash (85.25 points).
Schaper had yet to place in any round with those three scores, but he was able to ride King Buck for 87.5 points to clinch the victory and finish second in the championship round for 60 of his 460 points.
Once Schaper left the shark cage, Harris eventually walked over to his travel partner and gave him a big, congratulatory hug.
“He struggled a little bit whenever he came back off his broken leg and stuff,” Harris said. “This year he has been creeping along and kind of was being the quiet guy. Nobody was really paying him much attention and I think that is the way he rather have it.”
However, the spotlight was on Schaper in Billings from the get-go. Not only was he likely the next fan favorite behind home state kid Matt Triplett, but Schaper, who drove to Billings from North Dakota, had a massive matchup against Mick E Mouse in the 15/15 Bucking Battle.
The matchup ended up being a dud though as Mick E Mouse’s back legs buckled underneath him and Schaper was awarded a re-ride. Schaper is unsure what may or may not have happened if Mick E Mouse didn’t fall.
“I felt good, I know I would have made it around that corner, but after that he is so unpredictable anyways,” Schaper said. “Everyone said I looked pretty good and they knew I would ride him. It was just one of those deals.”
Schaper wound up riding Modified Clyde for 87.5 points, earning a fourth-place finish in the 15/15 Bucking Battle and 60 points toward the world standings.
Prior to the championship round on Sunday, Harris tried to convince Schaper to select Stone Sober with the first pick.
“He is riding lights out,” Harris said. “I was giving him a hard time back there before the short round and I said, ‘Crap, as good as you are riding, select Stone Sober and be 95.’”
Harris and Schaper became friends last season when Schaper returned to the BFTS after missing a little more than five months with a broken leg courtesy of three-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker.
What is it that brought the outspoken four-time PRCA champion and a soft-spoken bull rider from a town of roughly 200 people together?
“I think we have a little more in common than most people think,” Harris said. “Crap, he has a ranching background and, shoot, that is my background. We have a lot in common as far as that goes. We get along and have a good time. We don’t talk about bull riding a whole lot. We talk about cattle and what the market is doing and what we did during the week.”
Schaper added with a laugh, “I don’t know. He is just down to earth. I just like down to earth people. We like to hangout. I guess we both enjoy a good beer.”
In all seriousness, Schaper, who has a career-best 48.98 percent riding average this season, has credited Harris with some of his success.
Not that Schaper wasn’t a physically talented bull rider in past seasons – he was a Top-10 rider before he broke his leg – but Harris’ confidence and mental strength has seemingly begun to rub off on Schaper.
Schaper has always been one of the tallest bull riders on tour, but he is now walking with his head held high.
“I do attribute a little bit of the success to rooming with him and hanging out with him,” Schaper said. “We have become such good friends. He is a four- time world champ. He rides amazing. I love the way he approaches it. His attitude – he is so confident.
“I love hanging around confident people. You just want to be around positive people and confident people. Every day it is waking up and being confident and positive. It all leads up to the weekend and the event.”
Schaper has already set a career-high with five Top-5 finishes and 24 qualified rides in 2015.
He heads into the Des Moines Invitational 965 points behind world leader Joao Ricardo Vieira and is one of the few riders inside the Top 10 of the standings not dealing with a significant injury.
The fourth-year BFTS pro wants to take the next step in his career. Just getting to World Finals is no longer good enough.
“I am at the point now; I am not going to get any younger,” Schaper said. “I am healthy and I am in my prime. For the longest time you are just happy being here and qualifying for the World Finals, but eventually the World Championship is on your mind.
“That is definitely my goal at the end of the year –that is all of our goals. As opposed to year’s past, it is more so this year.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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