KNOXVILLE—Alex Bullard’s arrival at Tennessee in January following a transfer from Notre Dame brought along with it a handful of questions.
The former four-star guard out of Brentwood Academy played in just three games in two seasons in South Bend, battled mononucleosis that sapped some of his size and strength and lost his father to cancer.
Whether Bullard could adjust to his new setting and provide the Volunteers with an additional quality player on the offensive wasn’t known, but in just a little more than two months on campus the 6-foot-2, 304-pound sophomore has provided some answers.
“I feel like I can compete anywhere in the country,” Bullard said after he finished working on his snaps long after Saturday’s practice had ended.
“I just came in here with the mindset that I was going to compete, play as hard as I can and whatever happens happens. Anything they ask me to do, I’m just going to do it to the best of my ability. That’s what I’ve been trying to do so far.”
So far the Vols have tried Bullard out at tackle and center, a position he’s never played before. Based on the feedback he’s gotten from his coaches, he’s handled adjusting to his new surroundings just fine.
“He’s been an incredibly big surprise,” Vols coach Derek Dooley said. “Rarely do you get a guy for free with that kind of size and ability. We played him at tackle early [and] we’re going to look at him at center. This spring, our objective is to see where he can best play and where he can help us. He’s really a good football player.”
Whether or not Bullard can help UT next fall is still up in the air. He’s awaiting word from the NCAA on the granting of a hardship waiver that would make him eligible to play immediately as opposed to sitting out a year per NCAA transfer rules.
Even then, Bullard’s worked his way back into playing shape — and then some. This offseason alone he’s increased his bench press by 50 pounds and his squat by 90 pounds to the highest it’s ever been.
“When I had mono,” he said. “I didn’t I lose as much strength because I was able to keep eating right, but as far as shape I had to get back in shape and that work capacity. That’s the biggest thing. I improved big in the weight room. That’s one of the things I said I had to get better at coming in was getting stronger so I can compete at the highest level.”
Now it’s a matter of finding the position he can best help the Vols and learning the offense. He’s getting plenty of help from UT’s other young offensive linemen — tackle Ja’Wuan James and center James Stone, in particular — in that aspect.
“This offense is new to me,” Bullard said. “At ND, we ran the spread no-huddle, so it was dumbed down a lot. But this pro-style offense with the things that we do, it’s a lot to learn, similar to what I did at Notre Dame my first year [when] I was redshirted. I wasn’t in that system a lot.”
That may be the last adjustment for Bullard, who’s much closer to home and family at UT than he was at Notre Dame. The Vols recruited him heavily out of high school, so he’s no stranger to Knoxville and he’s been embraced by his teammates.
“All my friends are here from high school, I’m two hours away from home [and] my mom comes up all the time to visit so I’m really comfortable here,” he said. “My roommate, Brent Brewer, [is] a real good guy, and I’ve made some good, close friends already on the team.
“I expected to come in here and do my best, wherever [position] I was. I think it’s gone pretty well so far.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...