PUEBLO, Colo. – Kurt Shephard understands he still has much to prove in the arena, not only to others, but also to himself. It is why he picked up his cell phone when he caught word of the Young Guns Challenge taking place at the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge in Decatur, Texas, on June 4.
Shephard had heard about rookies Derek Kolbaba and Jess Lockwood being offered an opportunity to battle it out for a $50,000 chance at Jared Allen’s Air Time and, quite frankly, he wanted the same opportunity.
Therefore, Shephard reached out to the PBR’s competition department.
The 21-year-old knew he hadn’t had the same early success as Lockwood, Kolbaba, Cooper Davis or Jorge Valdiviezo, but he was still confident he could contend with the big cats of the new young gun class.
“I was like, ‘Shoot, yeah I want a shot at Air Time,” Shephard said. “I would love to get on him for $50,000.’ It is worth putting your hand into your rope for that kind of money if you can have that opportunity.”
Luckily for Shephard, Mason Lowe had to withdraw from the event because of a wrist injury, so the PBR competition department informed Hart of Shephard’s request to get into the showdown.
“They called me back last Friday and he said, ‘Hey, this is J.W.’ I said, ‘Sounds good,’” Shephard said.
The BlueDEF Tour event will be streamed exclusively on PBR LIVE.
Shephard said there are no hard feelings for being left out of the original group, and he is just excited to have a shot at competing alongside his fellow young guns in Decatur.
Does he want to prove a point against the other riders in the challenge? Does he feel like maybe he was overlooked?
“I guess you could say that, but I have a lot to prove over here,” Shephard said. “I have a lot to prove to myself that is for sure, especially against the high-caliber of bulls that will be in Decatur.”
Decatur will be an ABBI Classic event.
Hart said he has been impressed with the entire rookie class’ mentality of not being intimidated by the ranker bulls of the PBR.
“It says a lot about them and the future of our sport,” Hart said. “Over the past few years, it was a known fact that some guys skipped our event because they would have to get on those rank bulls. If you don’t want to ride the rank ones, go somewhere else. If you want to ride the rankest and be the best in the world, you come to the PBR and get on them.”
Shephard is only 4-for-15 (26.57 percent) in six Built Ford Tough Series events, but he is ranked 29th in the world standings because of a 40.38 percent (21-for-52) riding percentage at non-BFTS events (BlueDEF Tour, Touring Pro Division and Australia).
He placed fourth last weekend at the Ocala, Florida, TPD event by riding Juggernaut for 88 points.
The Atherton, Australia, bull rider made his BFTS debut in Duluth, Georgia, with an 84.5-point ride on Freaky Eyes and, a month later, posted a career-high fourth-place finish at the Stanley Performance In Action Invitational in Billings, Montana.
Three of his four rides this season came in Billings, including an 87-point effort on Sheep Creek in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round.
“That weekend definitely helped me a lot,” Shephard said. “It all happened there for me. My confidence level is a little higher than when I first got on tour kind of. It took a bit to adjust. As much as I thought it wouldn’t affect me, but I feel a lot better now and that I can do it.”
That confidence led for him making the phone call to try and get into Hart’s event.
Although it will take more than confidence to ride Air Time if he can win the Young Guns Challenge.
Shephard would have liked to have selected Bruiser for the bonus round, but Lockwood had already picked the D&H Cattle Company bovine. Shephard then thought about Brutus, but Brutus was unavailable for Decatur. Not sure what to do, Shephard reached out to fellow Aussie Lachlan Richardson for advice.
“I don’t know a whole lot about him,” Shephard said. “I talked to Lachlan Richardson and he seemed to think it would be a good pick and I could be a few points if I ride him. I didn’t know really much else after seeing what the other guys had already pick. There were a couple bulls in there I would have picked probably, but I was like, ‘I guess Time Bomb could be a bunch of points.’”
Time Bomb is 8-2 on the BFTS and 16-3 overall.
Richardson was bucked off by Time Bomb in 2.79 seconds at Iron Cowboy, while Joao Ricardo Vieira rode him for 90 points in New York. Stetson Lawrence made the 8-second mark on Time Bomb for 87.25 points in Round 3 of the 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals.
A qualified ride aboard Time Bomb would potentially be the highlight of his young career. So far Shephard classifies his 88-point winning ride on Crooked Face at the Hampton, Virginia, BlueDEF Tour event as his best. The ride earned him an invite to the BFTS.
Similar to Kolbaba, Shephard wants to become more than just an average bull rider.
“I want to not be known as just someone that can ride those nice ones,” Shephard said. “I want to be able to ride them rank bulls.”
He may get his first crack at one in Decatur in a little over one week.
“That would be pretty cool to get a good bull ride, whether I can beat someone or not,” Shephard said.
“If I can get a bull ride, we will see what happens after that if I end up getting on Air Time.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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