(Photo courtesy Justin Felisko)

NEW YORK CITY – The high school wrestlers at Broadus’ Powder River County High School were likely growing antsy waiting for the 2018 Professional Bull Riders’ season to begin. The Hawks had a celebrity assistant on their practice mats, leaving them star struck, but that assistant was proving to be unbeatable.

“The coach (Frankie Schoonover, can beat me),” said former Broadus state wrestling champion Jess Lockwood, the defending PBR world champion. “Other than that, I can take all the kids. But they’re tough.”

Lockwood, who won the 2017 PBR world title at the age of 20, the youngest winner in the history of the sport, has continued to hold a passion for the sport of wrestling. In February of 2013, Lockwood brought the Class B-C 98-pound championship back home to Broadus, then ventured on his journey into the world of professional bull riding.

Although bright arena lights, world-class bucking bulls and thousands of PBR fans fill Lockwood’s daily calendar these days, he continues to find himself on the wrestling mats. Last month, Lockwood joined fellow Montanan Bill Zadick, a former four-time state champion for Great Falls High, in Colorado Springs, working with the U.S. men’s freestyle team. Zadick coached the USA to the world freestyle title, the first for the American grapplers since 1995.

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Lockwood, who called himself “star struck” after meeting former NCAA champion David Taylor, was particularly interested in the workouts orchestrated by Zadick, and the dietary plan implemented by Team USA’s staff.

“I’m really disciplined in my work ethic and I work out all the time. I got a nutrition plan from the Olympic wrestlers, so I’m on this new meal plan and diet, a nutrition plan,” he said. “I’ve actually been working on trying to gain five pounds of muscle, because I got pretty skinny from being back home and wrestling with the wrestling team. I’m working on putting myself at 135 pounds, and I feel really good there.”

PBR entertainer Flint Rasmussen, also of Montana blood, told MTN Sports last week he expects “nobody to be in better shape entering New York City than Jess Lockwood.” Only the second bull rider in the history of the PBR to win rookie of the year and a world title in consecutive seasons, Lockwood hopes gaining those five pounds of muscle will help eliminate some of the injuries he suffered in his up-and-down 2017.

After spending a few days training in Dallas, Lockwood flew to New York City where he has been the hottest ticket in town. Though he admits to preferring “being low key,” the TV, radio and newspaper interviews have interfered with some of his tourist time. Still, as of Wednesday, Lockwood had yet to sign a single autograph, posing for only a handful of photos with fans in the streets.

That’s sure to change Friday evening when the lights of Madison Square Garden go dark and the flames and music erupt throughout Manhattan. Lockwood won here last season, raking in more than $117,000 at the Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden, setting himself up for the world-title run.

“It’s the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. Winning the first (event) of the year, that’s where all the momentum comes from, so you want to win this one, and you have a good chance of having that carry into the rest of the year and making things happen,” said Lockwood.

“I don’t want to use the word comfortable, because you’re never comfortable bull riding,” he continued. “You need to go into each weekend feeling as uncomfortable as you can, but my confidence is at an all-time high, and I think that’s going to be a real game-changer.”

Confidence, work ethic and motivation, Lockwood has all the ingredients to make another run at a world title. Only one athlete, Silvano Alves, has ever captured consecutive world titles in the sport, but don’t tell Lockwood the odds are stacked against him.

“I’m not happy with just being a world champion. I want to be a back-to-back world champion and I want to be a four-time world champion, for damn sure,” he said. “I’m not comfortable with just having one. As long as I’m doing it, I plan on trying to win one each year.”

The lifespan of a professional bull rider’s career varies, but few are allowed the option to retire on top. Lockwood aims to buck that trend, seeking those four world titles in the next four to six years, where he would “probably plan on being done at 27 or 28 years old.”

It’s seems absurd to most to hear a 20-year-old world champion even utter the word retirement, but Lockwood isn’t your typical 20-year-old. Now a millionaire, the former scrawny state champion wrestler is soaking up every arena and every ride, and one could argue nobody has more fun on tour.

But when it does come time to ride off into the sunset, Lockwood will already be set up for a so-called retirement.

“I have 30 head (of cattle) right now. We have 10,000 acres at home. So yeah, ranching is what I’ll do with the rest of my life, and that’s where I’m putting all the money into that I win. … I’m a rancher with a bull riding problem,” he laughed.

And a wrestling hobby sprinkled in between.

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