Jon Bullard was the typical kind of prospect the Florida Gators went after. A five-star defensive lineman, who was good off of the field as he was on it, Bullard had offers from everybody; he could have gone to any university in the country to play football.
A Gators ball cap and a super sized chomp during the Army All-American game opened his career but, thanks to what he has done since then, will be one of the last things Jon Bullard is remembered for.
Part of a loaded signing class, Bullard took a back seat to some others during his freshman season. He did however play in all 13 games as a freshman, earning two starts and was named to the First-Team SEC Coaches’ All-American team (DL). Bullard really started to flash towards the end of the season; recording a career-high seven tackles against Vanderbilt.
Bullard missed one game as a sophomore but continued to show the promise and potential everyone knew he had, but he was still growing and maturing as a player on the field. That season, Bullard was asked to slide down inside to play defensive tackle, a position he was unfamiliar with having played on the edge is whole life. He’ll be the first to admit that he made the move begrudgingly, but it’s a move that has paid off for both he and the Gators.
As his junior season approached Bullard was still in the shadow of Dante Fowler on the defensive line. Bullard, while he has always been a disruptive force, never really out up gaudy numbers on his own. Bullard played well for Florida in 2014. He once again played in every game of the season, with a typical late season push.
When the Gators won the Birmingham Bowl, many assumed it would be Bullard’s last game in Orange and Blue. His closest friends on the team would mostly be gone the next season and his season was good enough to help his draft stock. Bullard was also very close with Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. With them gone and a new coaching staff already in place, would Bullard want to go through what looked like it would be a rebuilding season?
After much deliberation with his family and with Muschamp, Bullard chose to stay and play his senior season. It’s a risky gamble for any NFL prospect. Returning to school means risking injury or a poor performance that could cause your draft stock to plummet.
Bullard returned determined. He felt a bond with the university, with his teammates and was hungry to come back and make an impact as a senior.
Bullard has had a dream senior season.
His 13.5 tackles for a loss lead the Gators. He’s fifth on the team with 53 tackles and second on the team with 5.5 sacks. Playing inside, Bullard’s impact has paved the way for the younger players to his left and right as well as clearing the way for Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison at linebacker. Bullard’s play on the field has increased his NFL Draft stock tenfold, and to see the impact he has had for Florida this season, in a year that he didn’t even have to be in Gainesville for, has been a treat.
Every jersey number has one player or a couple players that will forever be linked to the number. There will never be another player to come to Gainesville, wear No. 90 and not have someone think about Jon Bullard when they see it.
Bullard has been the ultimate teammate, player and person in Gainesville and Saturday night he will surely receive the loudest ovation when he runs out of the tunnel. It’s deserved.
Spivey’s Story: Bullard, or as I call him “Jon Jon”, will always be one of my favorite players to have ever covered for the way he goes about his business on and off the field. On the field he team first kind of guy that plays hard and has always been overshadowed by others. Off the field Jon Jon is one of the nicest guy’s you will ever meet and that goes back to his day as a five-star recruit from Shelby, North Carolina. I remember Jon Jon talking about his maw-maw (grandmother) and how much he wanted to make her proud and I’m here to say that I think maw-maw is proud of Jon Jon. So here’s to great senior day, Jon Jon and best of luck to you in the future. You will always have a fan at Gator Country.