Bull session: Young Colten Fritzlan highlights PBR rodeo event in Glendale

Bull riding can be a treacherous sport. Colten Fritzlan stares eye-to-eye with Wicked Dreams after a 2.59 second buck off in round 2 of the PBR Built Ford Tough Invitational in Glendale. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

Fritzlan, 21, enters the arena in the Built Ford Tough Invitational at Gila River Arena. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

Fritzlan brings his left hand up as the gates open on Red Clark in the final round. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

AC/DC’s “Walk All Over You” blares in the arena before Fritzlan’s ride in round 2. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

Fritzlan looks back at the arena after a final round 2.22-second buck off on Red Clark. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

Fritzlan chooses Red Clark for his final round bull with announcer Matt West. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

Fritzlan brings his left hand up while Wicked Dreams bucks for the first time out of the chute in round 2. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

J.B. Mauney helps Fritzlan into the chute in round 2. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

Fritzlan pulls his sleeve up before his ride in round 2. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

Fritzlan watches the jumbotron before his ride in round 2. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

Fritzlan ties his glove to his chaps after an 87.5 ride on Wicked Hou in round 1. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

Fritzlan takes off his helmet after an 87.5 ride on Wicked Hou in round 1. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – Rodeo is a longstanding tradition in western culture, running deep roots in families across the United States. Many have argued it’s not just a sport but a way of life.

That’s the case for Colorado native Colten Fritzlan, the youngest rider on the elite-level Unleash the Beast tour for Professional Bull Riding in 2021. Fritzlan turned 21 just hours before riding in the recent PBR Built Ford Tough Invitational in Glendale, an event that gave Arizonans a birds-eye view of the entertaining sport and the people that live it.

One of those is young phenom Fritzlan.

“Growing up, I was around rodeo and that was it,” said the fourth generation of Fritzlan to rodeo. “It was a given that I was going to rodeo my whole life. Riding bulls is what stuck out for me. I always had an eye for it.”

He began his riding career at 9 and never looked back.

“There’s a lot of up-and-coming young guys,” said PBR co-founder Cody Custer on how the younger riders are shaping the landscape of professional rodeo. “These guys are getting serious about their training.”

At 18, Fritzlan entered into the PBR Touring Pro Division, which allows promising young riders to gain experience and work their way up the ranks. In 2019, he started riding in the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association and moved up to the PBR Pendleton Whiskey Velocity Tour late in the riding season. He won big last year with the 2020 Resistol Rookie of the Year for bull riding from the PRCA.

“I rode in pro rodeo for a few years and still do now,” he said. “Getting here is a huge blessing and I’m looking forward to it.”

He made a statement in the opening week of the 2021 season, winning the first rodeo of the year and a check for $23,996.73 at the Coors Banquet Invitational. Three completed rides with scores of 86.5, 86.75, and 87 sent shock waves across the rodeo community.

“I’m not surprised Colten’s here at all. I’ve known him since we were little bitty,” said fellow rider and friend Keyshawn Whitehorse. “Colten was not one of ‘em to show lack of self-confidence growing up.”

Fritzlan acknowledged that “I expected myself to be there and show up and win. One job in mind. I do my job and that’s it.”

He took home another win and a $100,000 check with his first career 90.25 ride at the American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, the week before making the trip to Arizona.

Fritzlan doesn’t attribute all his success to training though. He and many riders share a superstition.

“I don’t put my hat on the bed,” he said.

Not placing your hat on the bed is a long-standing rodeo superstition. The belief is that it invites a permanent sleep, also known as death.

That fear doesn’t stop Fritzlan from riding 2,000-pound bulls.

“I have a routine that I follow and I do that each and every time,” he said. “Do your job, get to the whistle, and get paid.”

As the youngest on the tour, he’s ranked No. 8 in the world. His 11th place finish in Arizona earned him 14.50 points in the world standings. With eyes on the $1,000,000 prize and the title of PBR World Champion, Colten is looking forward to “carrying this momentum each and every weekend.”

“He obviously put in the work and knowing he has the ability. I think he has what it takes to be Rookie of the Year, for sure,” Whitehorse said.

Fritzlan and the PBR Unleash the Beast tour makes a stop in Kansas City, Missouri, Saturday night.

Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Marlee Smith expects to graduate in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in organizational leadership. Smith is the social media coordinator for ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

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