Garrett Wickett, of Norfolk, is leading the regional and national standings in college bull riding. He's following in the steps of his father who was a professional bull rider for 12 years. (Photo courtesy of JJJ Photo.)
What does it take to be the number one bull rider in the nation?
"I just try to stay focused – not on winning, but on riding my bulls," said Garrett Wickett. "If you ride consistently, you're going to get points."
It's a strategy that has paid off for the Mid-Plains Community College sophomore. This fall, Wickett won National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association rodeos in Ames, Iowa and Fargo, N.D. and took home a second place finish in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
It was enough to earn him 461.5 points and put him at the top of the leaderboards in both the regional and national NIRA bull riding standings. He isn't quite sure how he feels about that.
"I've never been in this position before," Wickett said. "I guess I'm more concerned with the regional standings because the national standings don't really count until after the CNFR."
Success is something Wickett has been adjusting to the past couple of years. He was the 2015 Nebraska High School Rodeo Association bull riding champion, the 2015 Mid-States Rodeo Association reserve bull riding champion and the 2016 Mid-States Rookie of the Year.
"Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to ride bulls and be good at it," said Wickett. "I think it's because of my dad."
His father, Faron Wickett, of Norfolk, competed as a bull rider on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit for 12 years – retiring when Garrett was just a toddler. Garrett's uncles, Matt and Shane Wickett, also rode bulls professionally.
"I got started riding sheep, then moved up to calves, then steers, then began riding bulls the spring of my freshman year of high school," said Garrett.
He was weighing a handful of colleges following his graduation from Pierce High School in Pierce, Neb. in 2015. Those included Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyo., the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis, Neb. and Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Neb.
"I only would have paid tuition at Northeast because I could have lived at home," Garrett said.
(Photo courtesy of JJJ Photo.)
MPCC, however, made him an offer he couldn't refuse - a rodeo scholarship that paid his tuition.
"That was the biggest reason I chose Mid-Plains," Garrett said. "It made college financially feasible. That and I already knew most of the members of MPCC's rodeo team."
The fact that the college's rodeo team was experiencing tremendous growth and that he would be training under former world champion bull rider Dustin Elliott also made Mid-Plains appealing.
"I've learned a lot from Dustin, from the business side of rodeo to the mental stuff, like staying calm," Garrett said. "That's what 90 percent of bull riding is – having your head in the right spot. I struggled for years with that. So much of it is a confidence thing, and I never thought I was good enough."
He's found ways to combat that, including writing his goals down and using them as a constant reminder of where he wants to be.
"I have my goals on the screen on my phone so that I see them all the time," said Garrett. "My dad always said to put them on a sticky note on the bathroom mirror, the fridge, the computer, the TV – wherever my eyes would go."
(Photo courtesy of JJJ Photo.)
The ability to keep his eyes on the prize came in handy this summer when he sustained a serious bull riding injury. Garrett got slammed onto hard ground, popping air sacs in his lungs.
"The doctor told me I better take a week off of rodeoing because if I didn't, and I took another hit to my chest, I would end up in the hospital with a chest tube," Garrett said.
Garrett waited exactly one week then was back in the arena.
"There's definitely an adrenaline rush to what I do," said Garrett. "Of course the fear is always there, but you just try to block it out and not to let it affect you."
He traveled through Arkansas and Oklahoma as part of the LJ Jenkins Bullriding Tour, winning enough points to qualify him for the finals in Clovis, N.M. Nov. 11-12. He will also compete at his first PRCA rodeo in Brookings, S.D. next week.
Garrett sees both competitions as opportunities to stay on top of his game until the college rodeos start back up in the spring and he sets his sights on the next goal – winning the College National Finals Rodeo.
Garrett doesn't plan to stop there, however. Going pro and following in the footsteps of his father is ultimately what he wants to do. Garrett plans to hit the PRCA rodeos hard in 2018, and if he's riding consistently, may consider branching out to the Professional Bull Riders circuit.
"That's why I'm pushing myself so hard now," Garrett said. "I want to win a world championship. I want to be the best bull rider in the country."