By: Justin Felisko
August 02, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – PBR photographer Andy Watson was sitting at a hotel bar during the 2014 Built Ford Tough Series sipping on a dark IPA beer when Nathan Schaper walked up to him.
Schaper was wetting his own palate with a Coors Light when he asked Watson, “What are you drinking?”
Watson then explained he was drinking an IPA, and Schaper asked if he could take a sip.
Sure enough, Watson let the 23-year-old newcomer to the BFTS have a sample.
Watson, then breaks out into a laugh as he is re-telling the story of how he first met Schaper during this past weekend’s Big Sky, Montana, BlueDEF Tour event.
“He tried it and he said, ‘This was pretty good,’” Watson continued. “Then for another month or so, every time he would come down there, ‘What are you drinking? I will have one of those.’
“We finally got to talking and stuff, but yeah he would come hangout. He was a 23-year-old going on 43. He would come down to the bar and have one or two and go home.”
It was the beginning of a budding friendship between Watson, 44, and Schaper.
Both men are from neighboring states Montana and North Dakota, and they immediately found they had similar interests in fishing and hunting even if their beer tastes were a tad bit different.
Therefore, Watson couldn’t help but at first only say, “This is awesome,” as he looked on at Schaper with his smile radiating from cheek to cheek while posing for photos following his Big Sky victory on Saturday night.
It was only four months ago where Watson and Schaper could no longer have their weekly weekend beer following a BFTS event when Schaper was cut from the PBR’s big league tour after the Duluth Invitational.
In those first couple of weeks, Watson called Schaper to remind him he would be back on the BFTS in no time. Watson knew Schaper was hurting, but he also knew Schaper needed a quick pep talk to get his spirits up and his focus back on track.
“It was just that deal,” Watson recalled. “I think Schaper loves being close to home and this feel, being up north and what not. You know he has the talent and he will be (on the BFTS). I told him you will be here. You will get back. You will have a good summer. Come win my event and get you back just like you did last time.”
Schaper became the first two-time winner of Watson’s Big Sky PBR event. The Grassy Butte, North Dakota, bull rider earned the victory with a 92.5-point ride on Modified Clyde in the championship round.
“I love that bull,” Schaper said. “Honestly when I saw the draw, if I could have handpicked one I would have probably picked him. I have been on him twice before and rode him once and bucked off him once. When the gate opened, and he turned back, I threw everything I had at him. Thankfully it worked out. It was a really tough bull riding. Everyone rode good. I am just thankful to walk away with the win.”
It was the second 90-point ride of the weekend for Schaper. He began the weekend with a 90-point ride on Pistol Whip and followed that up with an 83.5-point ride in the second round on Sparticus.
Schaper entered the weekend with only two career 90-point rides at all levels of PBR competition since turning pro in 2009.
“He was amazing,” Watson said. “That first bull he rode good. It got him in a bad spot, strung out and got his chin, and he got back in the middle of it. He was recovering like he used to. He didn’t make big moves and get out of control. He just rode like he did when he was winning every time. It was awesome.”
The 25-year-old earned 80 points toward the world standings and is now 34th in the world with less than three weeks before the BFTS resumes on Aug. 19 in Nashville with the Frontier Communications Music City Knockout, presented by Cooper Tires. He also will be awarded an exemption to a future BFTS event courtesy of his BlueDEF victory.
“Oh man, this means everything,” Schaper said. “I had been putting a lot of emphasis on these last few events I have been entering. I have been trying to make the most of it when you get there. I only have about five left before the Built Ford Tough Series starts so I was going to make the most of every one and get to work.”
But it was much more than just a victory for Schaper.
He couldn’t have asked for a better place or event to earn the victory. And he wouldn’t have asked for anyone else to have given him such a big, congratulatory hug like Watson gave him late Saturday night.
“I will tell you what. Andy is one of my best friends and he will always be my best friend,” Schaper said. “We get along good and have had a lot of good times together. His event means more to me to win than any event I could possibly win. It is really special. Words can’t describe it. They really can’t.”
In 2014, Schaper won the 2014 Big Sky Touring Pro Division event in only his third event back after missing five months because of a broken left leg he sustained thanks to three-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker.
Obviously, Schaper was unable to be near his friends during his recovery, so Watson and his wife, Jacey, came up with an idea.
The Watsons were going to sign up for a beer of the month subscription and figured they would also get Schaper a subscription.
“Even though he was home and not on the road, we could still talk about our beer,” Andy said. “He has just become such a great friend. He is a good trooper.”
When asked about the subscription, Schaper bends over and erupts in laughter.
“You know, they did,” Schaper said. “They bought me a beer of the month club, and they sent it to me. They have just been good friends. We have done some hunting together. I have stayed at their place. At the end of the cup events, after the bull ridings, he is the guy I want to hang out with and go back to the hotel and have a beer with. Just relax and wind down and just talk about life.”
It may not have been a BFTS event, but as the clock ticked to midnight on Saturday, Schaper was once again enjoying a late-night beer with his best friend Watson.
The majority of other riders, friends and sponsors had already left as Schaper stood next to Watson outside Watson’s RV.
“Schaper, I am so happy for you,” Watson reiterated.
Schaper just smiled and said, “Thanks, Andy!”
It had been many months since Schaper was once again smiling like he was in Big Sky.
Through all of the ups and downs of the 2016 season, Schaper was back to having fun and hanging out with his best friends again.
“I am just thankful to still be able to do this and having fun,” Schaper concluded. “Winning always helps. It is tough when times get tough. You are bucking off a few and it gets tough on you. It is hard. At the end of the day, it is your friends, your family and the people close to you that pick you up and keep you going.
“Everyone here is my family and I thank God every day for it.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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