It may be about time to stop being surprised when Paul Coppini does something eye-catching.
The Kuna, ID, bull rider was already off to the best start of his three-year PRCA career before fronting up for the May 17-19 Redding Rodeo and securing the biggest win of his career.
An 89-point ride on Growney Brothers' Gin and Tonic at the Redding Rodeo assured his first win in a Wrangler Million Dollar Tour event, presented by Justin Boots, and demonstrated he may truly be ready for a breakout season.
"I'm pretty thankful for this (win) and where I am in my career," Coppini said. "I want to just keep on going and make it where every bull rider wants to be, at the (Wrangler) National Finals Rodeo.
"I didn't plan on going hard this winter, just hitting the bigger ones, and I ended up having the best winter season I've had (including a second-place finish in San Francisco). Now, I'm excited to go hard the rest of the way and see what happens. Just put it in God's hands."
Coppini's earnings of $4,532 in Redding moved him from 26th in the world standings to 16th and the cusp of a spot in the much desired Top 15, which would get him into the Wrangler NFR. He's earned $19,280 thus far (not counting the career-best $8,912 he banked early last month when he finished second at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City).
So, yeah, it may be time to start taking him seriously.
Part of the problem with assessing Coppini's career is that he didn't start competing as a bull rider until he was nearly 20 years old - rather late by contemporary standards. No Little Britches, no high school or college pedigree.
"I sort of fooled around with the sport when I was about 14," Coppini said, "but I didn't stick with it. I was a wrestler in high school. It wasn't until I was about 19 and working with a paving outfit that I decided 'I've got to find something better than this.'
"That's hard work. I mean it was hard work growing up on a dairy, but not like working with a paving crew. I had a friend who rode bulls. He got me back to it. I rode my first one at an amateur rodeo in Idaho (for 79 points) and I was hooked."
He took his first instruction from watching a lot of Lane Frost teaching tapes and later, when he developed some bad habits, enrolled in two-time World Champion Terry Don West's bull riding school in Henryetta, OK.
Coppini regards that as "a big jump in my career," a turning point in learning technique and some of the mental aspects of the sport. He still talks to West periodically to make sure he stays on the right path.
"The bull riding part I figured out pretty quick," Coppini said. "It's the mental part - keeping your head straight - that takes longer to figure out. It's always a head game, but you've got to move past (the disappointments) and keep going."
Observers have adopted a sort of wait-and-see attitude on Coppini since he debuted in 2010 with steady enough results to finish 43rd in the world and third in the rookie race behind Dylan Werner and Jacob O'Mara, with $27,129.
Despite a third-place result at the Pendleton (Ore.) Round-Up, Coppini suffered a drop off last year to 82nd in the world, making this year's sudden emergence all the more dramatic.
The other champions crowned at the Redding Rodeo Grounds were bareback riders Luke Creasy, Jessy Davis, Tyler Scales and Justin McDaniel (82 points each), steer wrestler Luke Branquinho (9.6 seconds on two head), team ropers Spencer Mitchell and Broc Cresta (12.6 seconds on two head), saddle bronc rider Jake Wright (86 points), tie-down roper Clint Cooper (15.4 seconds on two head) and barrel racer Christina Richman (34.50 seconds on two runs).