Justin Felisko EBS Contributor
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – One year later and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was once again home to a first for Jess Lockwood on April 1.
Last year, Lockwood made his PBR Built Ford Tough Series debut here as a wide-eyed 18-year-old.
This year, the then No. 2 ranked bull rider in the world standings returned to competition following the first significant injury of his professional career. And he put up the third-highest score of the weekend.
“I have been at home going to physical therapy since after Iron Cowboy,” Lockwood said prior to the event in Sioux Falls. “Luckily, it has been moving ahead of schedule each week, and I am ready to go now. There is no pain or anything.”
Lockwood missed five weeks after tearing his left groin in February attempting to ride Cooper Tires Brown Sugar at the Iron Cowboy in Arlington, Texas.
The 2017 world title contender rehabbed with Kristy Elgin in Broadus, Montana, three times a week.
The physical therapist put Lockwood through various exercises to strengthen his left groin involving ankle weights, resistance bands and medicine balls during his one-hour sessions.
“Holy crap was it tough,” Lockwood said. “She had me dripping in sweat each day. It sucked, but it was good.”
Lockwood also got on his bucking machine but admitted, “that isn’t much of a test,” compared to a 1,800-pound bucking bull.
Outside of rehab, Lockwood kept things pretty low key.
He watched PBR events sparingly to see how his buddies, 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis or Derek Kolbaba, rode in competition.
Lockwood was also getting up at midnight and at 2 a.m. to check on his 15 cows that are in the calving process—he bought them after the 2016 World Finals.
“It was nice, but [I’d] rather be going [to compete] each weekend and be home during the week,” he said.
Lockwood didn’t drop any spots in the world standings while out with injury, but he lost significant ground on world leader Eduardo Aparecido.
The 26-year-old from Brazil earned 880 points toward the standings during Lockwood’s absence and expanded his lead to 1,217.5 points.
“He has been riding good,” Lockwood said. “I have to get back there and do the same.”Lockwood was 11-for-21 (52.38 percent) with two victories and a fifth-place finish heading into the First PREMIER Bank/PREMIER Bankcard Invitational in Sioux Falls.
The 19-year-old entered the event with no intention to try and press to earn points or worry about trying to make up ground immediately in the world title race.
“I am just going to show up and try to ride every bull,” Lockwood said before the first bucking chute swung open. “That is all I can do, is just ride my bulls. It doesn’t matter what [Aparecido] or anyone else does. My job is to show up and ride.”
Like many, nine-time world champion and PBR co-founder Ty Murray was interested to see how Lockwood would come back.
“I am curious to see what Jess is going to do,” Murray said leading up to Lockwood’s return. “I am really interested in Jess. There is so much pressure on him to be this perfect human and perfect kid. He needs to go have some fun. He has a lot of freaking potential.”
While the teen was bucked off all three of his bulls in the main event, in the fourth 15/15 Bucking Battle of the season he regained the form that led him to two event wins earlier in the season.
Lockwood rode BC Circular Insanity for 90.25 points, his second 90-point ride of the season. His first monster ride at PBR’s elite level also came on BC Circular Insanity when he rode the bull for 90 points in the championship round to clinch his second victory of the season Jan. 29 in Sacramento, California.
Lockwood understands there is always the chance of re-injuring his groin, but he believes he did all he could to get ready.
“I wasn’t worried at all,” Lockwood said. “[Eglin] strength-tested me and actually my left leg is stronger than my right leg now—left leg is 110 percent and right leg is 100. We are trying to work on the right leg too.”
The risk of re-injury is why Lockwood listened to two-time world champion Justin McBride’s advice.
“He said, ‘I know you want to come back early and get some points. But don’t come back too early or you will get hurt again and be out longer than you want,’” Lockwood said.
For his performance in South Dakota, Lockwood earned 90 points and as of EBS press time on April 12 was ranked No. 4 and trailed Aparecido by 1,127.50 points in the world standings.
Lockwood will look to further cut into the Brazilian’s lead at the next Built Ford Tough Series stop in Tacoma, Washington. The Tacoma Invitational, presented by Cooper Tires, takes place April 22-23 at the Tacoma Dome, with the event’s 15/15 Bucking Battle set to air on CBS on April 23 at 2 p.m. ET and Championship Sunday on CBS Sports Network on April 23 at 8 p.m. ET.
Justin Felisko is Senior Writer/Editor for Professional Bull Riders, the world’s premier bull riding organization. He has contributed to SiriusXM Radio, 120 Sports, The New York Times, USA Hockey, the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Emmy-nominated documentary series, “Fearless.” He would name a bull “Caffeine-a-holic” if he were given the chance.