NEW YORK – Ryan Dirteater has entered new territory in 2017.
The 27-year-old has qualified for the Built Ford Tough World Finals eight times and has posted 193 qualified rides since making his BFTS debut in 2008.
However, never before has he been considered a potential contender for a World Championship like he is heading into this season.
Dirteater is a favorite among PBR insiders to be a dark horse world title contender in 2017 after winning the 2016 World Finals with a 6-for-6 performance.
The Hulbert, Oklahoma, bull rider is embracing the spotlight and challenge.
“I am fine with that,” Dirteater said. “I am going to go at it like it is another year. I am going to take it one bull at a time, stay focused and keep working hard.”
Dirteater began his 2017 season with an 84.5-point ride on Hustle Man in Round 1 of the Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden Friday night.
He has drawn St. Patty for Round 2, which begins at 6:45 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden.
Dirteater attempted a practice bull two weeks ago, as well as last weekend, in preparation for 2017.
“I roped a lot and enjoyed my time off,” Dirteater said. “I hit the gym the last few weeks and I am feeling good and ready to go.”
Dirteater had never finished inside the Top 10 of the world standings before his fantastic finish at the World Finals propelled him to a fourth-place finish in 2016.
“I am confident coming into this season,” Dirteater said. “Winning the biggest bull riding of the year is huge. I am 27. I only have a few years left. I am going to get all I can while I can. I am comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Staying focused is key. Realizing I am here and there is a lot of money to win. That is why I am here.”
PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert, two-time World Champion Justin McBride, nine-time World Champion Ty Murray and Ring of Honor inductee J.W. Hart all called Dirteater a rider to watch in 2017.
“I am pretty curious to see Ryan Dirteater,” McBride said. “I want to know if that is enough. Will he hang his hat on that? Or now, is he like, ‘Yeah, I am going to go win the World Championship. He is the biggest unknown to me.’”
Hart said, “Dirteater has seemed to turn a corner to me. He is my dark horse. When he come on tour, he was one of the special ones. You could just see he was that good. Then he spent a couple of years getting hurt. I think his heart and his effort took a bad turn and I don’t think he had that second and third effort. If he got into a bind, he would take the easy way out.
“Last year was kind of a turning point. He has made the whistle a few times on some good bulls and won the most events.”
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Dirteater agreed with Hart’s assessment that injuries early on his career certainly held him back from leaving it all in the arena at times.
It took him some time, and growing up, to get through that rough period that featured him dislocating his left knee cap and tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL at 20 years old. Dirteater missed the entire 2010 season and it took him 14 months to make his way back to the BFTS.
Oh yeah, and he also then sustained a torn ligament and tendon in his right riding elbow in his next season back.
In 2011, Dirteater won the Wichita, Kansas, BFTS event and wouldn’t win another event until last season.
“You just have to let it go and forget about it,” Dirteater said. “Injuries are going to happen. It is a dangerous sport. I am maturing and I feel as strong as I ever had. This is my time. I better do it.”
Dirteater set career-highs in event victories (4), qualified rides (33) and riding percentage (44.59 percent), but failed to earn any world points in 32 percent of the BFTS events he competed in. He put up goose eggs in eight regular-season events, as well as seven 15/15 Bucking Battles.
“He won the most events all year, and he won the Finals, and he didn’t win it,” Hart said. “That shows there is still a little weakness there, but he has turned a corner and knows he can win. If he puts the effort out, he could be one of the favorites to win it all.”
Murray added, “Ryan has been around for a very long time. He has waves where he does pretty good and then he has waves where he really struggles. I like Ryan. He is talented. He has been around for a very long time, but he hasn’t shown consistency for very long. I am not ruling him out.”
Dirteater has ridden eight bulls in a row dating back to last year, but that doesn’t mean much at all to him.
2016 was a record year, but 2017 is a new year.
“You have to earn it,” Dirteater concluded. “You have to put in the hours. You get what you put into the sport. I work hard for it. Dreams come true for those that work for their dream. I am still working and I am still dreaming.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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