Hoover, Ala. — Jonathan Bullard had a tough decision to make. As the Florida Gators senior defensive tackle saw his junior season come to a close, he had two options — both with possibly life changing consequences. He could leave school early and go to the National Football League, or come back for a senior season with a new head coach and a new staff.
Bullard, who has improved each season that he has been at Florida, would likely have been a mid-round draft pick had he come out last year, but that wasn’t his goal as a player.
Despite the low draft stock, the decision wasn’t an easy one for Bullard. Not only did that mean passing up on his dream of being a professional football player, but also meant playing his senior year without the coach who had meant so much to him along the way.
Making things even tougher for Bullard during his decision making process was that his mentor, and his go-to lady, his grandmother, was not there for him to lean on and to talk things through. Luckily, another close relative stepped in to lend an opinion.
“It was actually my older brother, Nelson Bullard,” he said of whom he leaned on. “To this day that’s who I go to, no matter what, if I’m down or if something’s going on. My grandma was a big factor and [Nelson] kind of understands that. I could talk to her about everything and she was a person that never wanted to hold me back. She was a big part of my life and my brother is just a great person to talk to because he had a bond with her as strong as I did. So that is who I go to talk about stuff with.”
His grandmother wasn’t around to give that advice but in the back of Bullard’s mind he knew what “Maw-Maw” (the name he called his grandmother) would’ve said to him.
“She probably would not have given me an answer, to be honest with you,” he said. “She would have probably said ‘go with your heart, you know what is best and either way you go, you’re going to kill it. If you go in the draft, it might not be where you want to go but if you stay then you can have a big year and go get it’. She would probably given me a little bit of both and said go to the Dallas Cowboys.”
After talking it over with his older brother and former Florida Gators coaches Will Muschamp and D.J. Durkin, Bullard decided it was best to return to Florida and try and improve on the 52 tackles that he recorded in 2014.
The decision was a very tough one for Bullard because it meant passing up his dream of playing in the NFL and making money for another yeah, but the defensive lineman quickly realized that stuff could wait, as he wanted to make his dream of becoming a first round draft pick come true.
“My parents were not in a situation where I needed to get money fast,” Bullard said on why he came back. “I saw improvement last year but it was tough because they [NFL guys] were telling me that you will get drafted but not where you want to be. The NFL guys were telling me that I would be drafted later but not too late. I’m going to be blessed this year even if I’m not the first rounder that I want to be, but just to be drafted.”
After making the decision to return to school was final, Bullard’s next move was to meet with the man he would now call coach.
Jim McElwain was the first person to ensure Bullard that he had made the right decision, but after losing his defensive line coach after a month on the job, Bullard was starting to get a little worried.
I thought it was going to be Coach [Terrell] Williams coaching me, which was good because he had NFL experience and he knew what it took to get there and then that fell down and I was like ‘oh man’,” Bullard said. “Then they brought in ‘Rumph Shaker’ [Chris Rumph] and I had met him before at Clemson. I went to camp at Clemson my 10th and 11th grade year and he recruited me at Alabama so I had already met him and was comfortable with him. I had met his family and I knew everything about him so it turned out to be good for me. So far so good.”
Bullard is in classes and back working out with the team, but in the back of his head Bullard is still thinking of ways to make his dream of becoming a first-round draft pick come true.
One of the first things that came to mind was that Bullard — who considers himself to be a defensive end — is not considered an elite pass rusher after only totaling 5.5 sacks in three years of play.
“I want to improve my pass rush this year,” he said. “I always look at myself as a big run defender and that’s good for me. As far as pass rush, I’ve never been a high number sack guy but that’s kind of what the league is coming too so that’s something that I wrote down on my list as improvements for this year. That will help my draft stock and me as a player.”
Bullard has made it through his last offseason as a college football player and was rewarded by getting a trip to SEC Media Days on Monday.
August, however, is a big month for Bullard because he will finally get the chance to starting working with Rumph on getting better in the areas he has written down where he wants to improve. With Bullard’s motivation and work ethic, the NFL should pay close attention to him.