Unique Rookie Class Highlights the Top 5 Rookie Rides of the First Half

By: Kristian Limas
May 27, 2017

2012 PRCA champion Cody Teel currently leads the Rookie of the Year race. Photo: Andre Silva

PUBELO, Colo. – The 2017 class of Built Ford Tough Series rookies is unique. Unlike many first-year competitors, most of this year’s rookie class arrived on the BFTS with a little bit of a pedigree to their names already.

Cody Teel currently leads the Rookie of the Year race. He began his BFTS journey having already earned a 2012 PRCA championship belt buckle.

Teel is being chased by a trio of Brazilians that represent the next wave of South American talent. Claudio Montanha Jr., Dener Barbosa and Luciano de Castro all arrived on the PBR’s elite tour with championships to their name.

Barbosa and Castro represent the last two PBR Brazil champions. Barbosa had already made an impressive United States debut at last year’s World Finals.

Meanwhile, Montanha won titles last year in Brazil’s Liga Nacional de Rodeio and at the legendary Barretos rodeo.

2017 has also been the year of 19-year-old Koal Livingston’s rise into the BFTS young gun’s club.

The teenager, who bought his PBR card a little more than a year ago, made the jump from amateur bull ridings into the big leagues. After winning the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour event in Hidalgo, Texas, earlier this season, Livingston made his BFTS debut and has since earned a solid spot in the Top 35.

Even though he may be the youngest, and least experienced, among the rookie competitors this year, Livingston has proven to be just as hungry.

Despite their previous accolades, all five riders know the true test of a bull rider happens at the BFTS level.

Below is a look at some of the top rookie rides of the first half.

The rookie race will heat up again when the BFTS returns from hiatus in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in August, and will not let up until the 2017 World Finals at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena Nov. 1-5. You can be there to see the next generation of PBR stars rise by purchasing your World Finals tickets now.

Livingston breaks through against Ram It in Jacksonville

With his spot in the Top 35 on the line after making his BFTS debut in Sacramento, California, Livingston arrived at the Jacksonville Invitational knowing he had to prove he was more than a flash in the pan. He did so with an 87.5-point ride on Ram It to win his first career BFTS round.

“Man, he was right there to the right and a good one to get on,” Livingston said.

Livingston went on to finish the weekend 2-for-3, and he had a chance to win the event outright before being bucked off by Alligator Arms in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round. Livingston did finish fifth overall, though, which is a career-best for the rookie.

Livingston took the disappointment in stride, and has maintained his calm demeanor despite dealing with an unstable free arm through the first half. That toughness no doubt came from his lessons in the boxing ring, where he was raised as a fighter by his grandfather, a former professional boxer himself.

“Boxing helps with everything,” Livingston said. “It works with all kinds of different muscles you aren’t used to working out every day. It is just a great workout. It keeps you on top of your game.”

Castro goes insane in Billings

When Luciano de Castro arrived in the United States this season, he came with a level of hype rarely seen. Castro has been billed as one of Brazil’s next great superstars, with his 2015 PBR Brazil Championship and career 85.42 riding percentage in South America backing that notion up.

His transition to the BFTS hasn’t been perfect, but Castro has impressed on some of the rankest bulls on tour.

Castro flashed his potential in Billings, Montana, with an 87.5-point trip aboard BC Circular Insanity during the championship round.

The ride capped a 3-for-4 performance for Castro, which resulted in a fifth-place overall finish in the event.

Castro has sported a more modest 41.94 riding percentage so far in his first BFTS season, but the young Brazilian has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the season that can mean big things once he finds more consistency.

“I thought it was going to take some time to get here and do good,” Castro said in Glendale, Arizona. “I was one of the top guys, riding percentage, in Brazil, and I didn’t know how I would do here. I was planning on doing good like Brazil.”

Though he still has a way to go in his development, Castro has drawn universal praise across the PBR, including from three-time World Champion Adriano Moraes.

All of the praise has reassured Castro that the move to the U.S. was the right one.

“I am so happy,” Castro said. “This is a dream come true coming over here, especially riding at the top. I am dedicating myself more and I want to be really good. I am relaxed. I am just trying to ride my bulls.”

Barbosa impresses on Swashbuckler in Sacramento

Dener Barbosa, the 2016 PBR Brazil Champion, had already introduced himself to the PBR after a 3-for-6 showing at the 2016 World Finals. Much like his compatriot Castro, Barbosa’s name has also been mentioned numerous times as one to watch out for.

In just his third regular-season BFTS in Sacramento, California, Barbosa closed out a 3-for-4 weekend with an 86.25-point ride on Swashbuckler in the championship round.

“I am feeling better and more confident right now,” Barbosa said. “The more bulls I get on, the better my technique is getting, (especially) when they come away from my hand. I am feeling happy and more confident.”

Like his countryman Castro, Barbosa has carried with him an immense amount of hype after a stellar career in his native Brazil. The pair are seen as the next wave of Brazilian superstars that have the ability to follow in the footsteps of legends like Guilherme Marchi and Silvano Alves.

In a fascinating twist, Moraes was reminded of a North American legend (two-time World Champion Justin McBride) when describing Barbosa’s riding style.

“Dener uses balance better than anyone I know,” Moraes said last year at the 2016 Built Ford Tough World Finals. “He balances like Justin. Justin rides with strength, but a lot of balance and timing. Even though they are two totally different styles of riding, but Justin had perfect timing and Dener has perfect timing.”

Claudio Montanha Jr. makes his name in Tacoma

Brazilian rookie Claudio Montanha Jr. was one of the bigger surprises of the first half of the season. The 28-year-old was on no one’s radar when he made the jump to the United States this year, and used a win at the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour event in Youngstown, Ohio, to make his BFTS debut in Kansas City.

There, he quickly introduced himself with one of the best rookie runs in recent memory. Montanha went a perfect 3-for-3 to finish fifth overall in his first ever BFTS events. He followed that up with five rides in Texas between RFD TV’s THE AMERICAN, and the BFTS’ Iron Cowboy.

The scorching debut for Montanha quickly elevated him into the realm of the BFTS’ best.

At the Tacoma Invitational, Montanha went a perfect 3-for-3 again, closing with an 86.25-point ride on GOOD RIDE’s Jailhouse Jr.

Montanha is currently second in the Rookie of the Year race, but he has put his name among the best regardless.

“Claude Montana,” as PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert quickly nicknamed him, “is the real deal. He can ride every son of a (gun). It don’t matter which way they go or what they do. I have seen a lot of good bull riders, and there is a lot of them here, but Claudio is really special. This guy is special.”

Cody Teel earns his way in Glendale

Ever since he arrived to the PBR, Cody Teel has never believed success is owed to him, even if he already wears a gold buckle from his 2012 PRCA championship. When Teel made the decision to make the jump to the PBR’s elite tour, he knew a new and difficult challenge awaited him.

In Glendale, Arizona, he took his first big step toward joining the BFTS’ elite when he rode More Big Bucks for 87.25 points to secure his first BFTS event win.

“Hopefully this is one of many,” Teel said. “I have to look forward to next weekend and show back up and do it again. It is a what have you done lately for me sport.”

Teel has set a goal to win the 2017 Rookie of the Year title, and has been adamant all season that no matter how impressive his resume is, he has to earn his way in the BFTS the same as anybody else.

“I feel like a rookie, and I am a rookie,” Teel said. “That is what it is. I was pretty humbled coming over here. It is great competition with the best guys and best bulls. That is why I want to be here.”

He learned that the hard way too, going a disappointing 2-for-8 before his event-winning performance in Glendale. Teel saw the win as a turning point, and will return in the second half looking to build on what he has done so far.

“It is back to zero this week. It is a new weekend. It feels good having momentum on my side, but, at the same time, it is the past,” Teel said. “I have to show up and do it all over again. Around here you can’t dwell on the past, bad or good.”

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