PUEBLO, Colo. – Jess Lockwood is ready to come full circle one more time before he forever leaves the high school world and moves on to the PBR’s illustrious Built Ford Tough Series.
Once the BFTS resumes in Nashville on Aug. 19-20, Lockwood will simply be an 18-year-old rookie with a high school diploma. Before that happens, though, he wants to make sure he gets one more shining moment for his high school yearbook.
It was in 2013 when Lockwood’s slow rise to fame started percolating during the high school rodeo season. At the time, not many people outside of Montana knew of this short, scrawny little bull rider from Volborg, Montana, that was also a state champion wrestler in the Class B-C 98-pound division.
That all began to change when the freshman Montana High School Rodeo State Champion showed up at the National High School Finals Rodeo and nearly won the whole thing before finishing behind 2013 national champion Bryce Burnell.
He was only 15 years old, but the freshman began to start hearing the chatter echoing throughout Rock Springs, Wyoming.
“Everyone was kind of like, ‘Holy cow. This kid can really ride good. He is just 15 years old and a freshman in high school,’” Lockwood recalled. “That is kind of when everyone started talking about me in the pro rodeos and a couple PBR guys texted me and said, ‘Hey, good job. That was pretty cool.’”
2015 World Finals event winner Cooper Davis was amidst his rookie season in the PRCA when he caught wind of this Montana boy lighting it up at the high school level.
“I have watched Jess since he was a freshman in high school and I could remember just getting out of high school and hearing about this kid from Montana and how good he was at the high school finals,” Davis said. “I was like, ‘There is no way a freshman can be this good.’ Anyway, I started seeing some videos of him and I am like, ‘This kid is THIS good.’”
It seemed as if Lockwood, who would go on to win the next two Montana state titles, was destined to be a national champion before his high school career came to a conclusion.
However, even destiny is not written in stone without a penman.
Lockwood’s freshman year ended with a buckoff in the championship round and then, last year, he slipped up on a bull that he knew he could have easily ridden in the final round. His sophomore season was a down year as he finished outside of the Top 10 at the Finals.
“Hopefully, I win another state title and then on to nationals,” Lockwood said. “Nationals is always fun. Just being around with all of my friends. Get on a couple of bulls during the week and hopefully win a national title.”
Even though is he is a now professional bull rider and on national television more often than not, Lockwood still wants to accomplish his goal of being a high school national champion.
To make that goal a reality, he needs to first finish within the Top 4 of the final Montana state standings this week at the 2016 Montana High School Rodeo State Finals on June 8-12 in Baker, Montana.
Placing in the Top 4 would qualify Lockwood for the National High School Rodeo Finals on July 17-23 in Gillette, Wyoming. Lockwood is currently in a four-way tie for first-place heading into the state finals.
“I am pretty excited,” he said. “I would like another shot at a bull this caliber (SweetPro’s Bruiser), but seeing as I don’t, I will just have to ride them (at state).”
It is one of the few things currently missing on his ever-growing bull riding resume. He is the second youngest rider in PBR history to win a BFTS event after going 3-for-4 in Billings, Montana, and he has won four BFTS rounds. Lockwood’s 43.75 percent BFTS riding average (7-for-16) is best among rookies this season.
Lockwood was bucked off by Bruiser in 6.57 seconds during this past weekend’s Young Guns Challenge at the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge BlueDEF Tour event.
Davis won the Young Guns Challenge with an 88-point ride on Who Dey and said there is no doubting Lockwood’s talents.
“He is 18 and has already accomplished a lot,” Davis said. “As far as Jess goes, he has a talent that not a whole lot of guys have at his age and he has a good attitude about him too.”
Lockwood said he doesn’t expect dropping down a few levels in bull caliber will affect his performance at the state finals compared to a baseball player dropping a level or two and having to adjust to a different caliber of pitching.
Instead, he believes his Built Ford Tough Series experience will be a benefit and an advantage.
“No, it just make it easier really,” Lockwood said. “After getting on these, you kind of get relaxed more when you get to those deals. This is your job, but it is still the funnest thing in the world. When you are down there you get to joke around more and have some fun.”
Lockwood recently won a high school rodeo in Three Forks, Montana, two weeks before Last Cowboy Standing. He said he didn’t feel out of place or too much like a celebrity when he nodded his head alongside his high school peers.
“It was awesome,” Lockwood said. “Everyone was just congratulating me, but they didn’t treat me any different. That is what I like. I don’t want to be treated any different.”
Lockwood handed out advice at a recent high school rodeo in Three Forks, Montana
The fact of the matter, though, is that he is very different. He is a professional bull rider in the hunt for a World Championship preparing to compete at the Montana High School Rodeo State Finals.
He is an 18-year-old being mentored by PBR legends Cody Lambert and two-time World Champion Justin McBride in Bowie, Texas, instead of going college clothes shopping like so many of his friends.
Lockwood must feel a tad bit of pressure, right?
What will it say if the bull rider ranked 15th in the world standings puts up a goose egg or dull performance against a weaker caliber of bulls?
“You know, from (Cody) Lambert and (Justin) McBride, yes,” Lockwood said with a chuckle about any pressure. “They told me the other weekend to not go out there and be stupid and buck off a high school bull, so that is the only pressure.”
He then added, “I feel pretty confident after getting on these (PBR) bulls to get on some of them. They are still bulls and are going to buck hard, but the caliber is different. (I have) two rides and a short go. Nationals will hopefully be three (rides) too.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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