Making Grandma Proud

Each of us has a different motivation for things, for some it is the desire to win. For others the motivation may be their kids or spouse. For Florida defensive end Jonathan Bullard, his motivation is his grandmother. The fact that his grandmother is no longer with us on this earth is of no consequence for Bullard. He knows she is looking down and him and is proud.

Jonathan Bullard came to Florida as an all-American high school defensive end. After brutalizing his opponents in San Antonio at the Army All-American Bowl, Bullard was bound for Florida with all kinds of hype added to his name.

A delayed arrival due to transcripts saw him miss some time with his freshmen teammates during the summer, but he arrived in time for fall classes.

He did star as a freshman, earning Freshman All-SEC honors in 2012 and actually started two games along the way recording 27 tackles and five tackles for loss. All of that, and in mid-season he had something hit him hard, the death of his grandmother.

Bullard said it wasn't easy, but he tried hard not to let it affect his play.

"It is on your mind," he told on Thursday. "The game she passed was the Missouri game. She passed that morning and I didn't know until after the game. It takes a lot, staying focused and when you are in practice, trying not to think about it. I wanted to be home with my mom and knowing she needed me. My family is real close."

His grandmother was very special to him and they built a strong bond. It hit him hard, but at the same time, he feels like there is a part of her that is still always there with him.

"Every time I go home I visit her grave and talk to her and tell her the goals," he said. "I talk to her about my goals and about doing the things that she never got to see me do but we talked about doing. Even here … sometimes I break down because I was really close. I feel like she is still here so I talk to her all the time. I pray and know she is still watching over me."

Bullard knows that he has someone watching his every move. That is something he takes to task and it helps guide him through some tough choices that life brings him.

"I think she is proud of me and I feel like that helps me out too, knowing how much I wanted to make her proud," he said. "I feel like some of the decisions are easier now knowing that she is watching everything I am doing."

Of course, none of us are perfect. I asked if there are times he thinks she wants to take a boot to him.

"It's on my mind sometimes too," he said with a laugh.

Bullard got through the tough loss of his grandmother and with the thought of her still with him and guiding him, he turned his season into a great one for a freshman. By the time the season ended, he could do everything the staff wanted of him.

"By the end of the year I had it down pat," he said of the playbook. "But, I was still in the role of not wanting to mess up as a freshman. We were playing behind the older guys, so I was a little tentative, but by the end of the year I knew everything I was doing."

That experience should make for a strong sophomore performance.

"No question," he said about the experience helping him in year two. "When you know what you are doing and don't have to think. You feel comfortable with your teammates besides you, you feel great."

Improvements have come too, especially with the experience, but mostly from learning from his coaches and fellow players.

"I learned a lot, with the terminology and other stuff," he said of what he has improved the most on. (Former defensive coordinator and line coach) Dan Quinn did a lot for me while he was here and the older guys here did the same too."

Quinn left for the NFL as a coordinator at the conclusion of last season. In his place is Brad Lawing, formerly of South Carolina. Bullard kind of smiled when he talked about the differences between the two.

"Quinn was more laid back when he talked," Bullard said. "Coach Lawing likes to holler a little bit. He will learn who takes the hollering and who is more laid back. He is just a little different than Coach Quinn, but he is doing well for us."

Bullard is intent on using the coaching change to his advantage, taking the best that each coach has to offer and applying it to the football field.

"They teach some stuff differently, but I believe that could be to my advantage," he said. "I think whichever way works for me I can just go that route."

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