When it comes to Michigan State athletics, there are just certain things you think about when it comes to the Spartans.
Powerful running backs carrying the football, tough point guards leading the basketball team, and intense coaches on the sidelines for whatever the sport may be.
Oh, and one other thing – a Bullough playing linebacker.
After a year without one leading the defense, the Spartan faithful can rest easy, as a new Bullough is set to lead the defense this fall. Redshirt junior Riley Bullough is now the man in the middle for the linebacking core, and he’s already feeling like the leader of the defense.
“I feel like more of a leader now, I feel like the guys look to me as a leader,” Bullough said. “That’s especially important as a MIKE linebacker because you’re controlling things every single play. I’m doing it confidently, so it’s helping me and the guys looking at me to make the calls, and it’s been working really well.”
At the start of spring practice, Bullough and redshirt sophomore Jon Reschke were listed as co-starters at the MIKE position. Head coach Mark Dantonio said it was 60/40 leaning in Bullough’s favor, but due to injuries to Reschke and Riley’s play, he’s emerged as the guy in the middle.
At this point, Bullough feels like it’s his job to lose.
“At this point, yeah, I do,” Bullough said. “I think I’ve come a long way this spring, even though it’s only been a few weeks. I think I had a pretty good scrimmage, and it just boosted my confidence. I know I can make plays, I just have to come out there every day with that mindset.”
Bullough has taken an interesting route to get to the starting middle linebacker spot. After being originally recruited as a linebacker, he was redshirted his first season, then moved to running back that spring.
When fall camp arrived, he started taking reps at fullback, but was primarily used on special teams. Last season, he was used as a reserve linebacker, but now he’s finally in the starting rotation.
Bullough made a good impression in the team’s first spring scrimmage Saturday, where he recorded five tackles and a pass breakup on way to a victory for the defense.
“I’m just playing confident right now,” Bullough said. “That’s a big thing at linebacker, you’ve got to play fast and physical and you have to know where to go. I think my football IQ has been through the roof this offseason, so it’s helped me. It’s definitely going to help me come fall when each with is different and you see different things.”
The Bullough name is a legacy for Michigan State football, starting all the way back with Riley’s grandfather Hank, who played guard in the early 1950s.
From his father Shane, to his uncle Chuck, and recently his brother Max - all have been a part of the Spartan linebacking core. That family tradition is important to Riley, and the advice that comes from them is very important.
“Yeah, it does, just because so many of my relatives have played it,” Bullough said. “They’re people I can talk to about it and they can relate to me, they can relate to the position. So, it’s an easy topic to talk about and it’s fun to talk about. It’s easy for them to give me advice because they’ve been in my shoes.”