March 30, 2012

Bullough says team is laying foundation for championship

EAST LANSING - Max Bullough emerged as the quarterback of the Michigan State defense in 2011 as a sophomore starter at the MIKE linebacker spot.

One year later, Bullough is firmly entrenched in his role as a playmaker and a leader for the Spartans. The junior-to-be believes that the Michigan State program has everything in place to make a run at Pasadena.

"We still haven't been to the Rose Bowl yet as a class or as an era, whatever that may be," Bullough said. "We are excited to try and fulfill that challenge this year. That is one of the main goals on my template is to win the Big Ten Championship and that is even bigger than beating Georgia last year. It is little things like that keep this team going hopefully can even build upon the great seasons we have had the last two years and into a great total for four years."

But the third generation Spartan also knows that fulfillment of goals like a Rose Bowl appearance is the culmination of hard work which began not long after Michigan State defeated Georgia in the Outback Bowl.

"It is everyone working hard as a team," said Bullough of winter conditioning. "It has always been that and it always will be that. It is things like coming into work out at 5:00 am and running later or running early and lifting later whatever it may be. Those are the things that build a team, the things we go through all through January and then into winter conditioning. Those are the things that really have enhanced the team."

As a team leader, Bullough strived to set the tone for his teammates on defense in weight room last winter.

"I think as much as it is getting there first and being there last, it is what you do when you are there," said Bullough, a second team All-Big Ten linebacker who I think that is as big as anything when you are doing lifts and runs. It is about leading by example. I think leading by example is one of the best ways be a leader. Obviously speak when you need to and be vocal when you need to, but leading by example I think is the most important asset."

Spring football is the next mile-marker in what Bullough and his teammates hope will be a journey that culminates in a Big Ten Championship.

"I think first and foremost as a team we want to win the Big Ten Championship and go to the Rose Bowl," said Bullough, who led the Spartans with 89 tackles as a sophomore starter last fall. "Obviously, that is our first goal. As a player it is just little things like staying square in certain situations and being more physical all of the time and things like that that you can always get better on from year to year. It is little things that are hard to talk about but easy to see in the film room."

Outstanding team chemistry played a significant role in Michigan State's back-to-back 11-win seasons in 2010 and 2011. Bullough believes that team chemistry will also be a strength of the Spartans in 2012.

"I think the chemistry that was there last year is still here," said Bullough. "There are a lot of the same guys, especially on defense. It is just fitting a few puzzles pieces here and there on the D-line and behind us. It is little pieces here and there but the main core of the team is still here and the fire is still burning from last year."

Last spring Bullough had the difficult task for replacing four-starter Greg Jones (New York Giants) as Michigan State's starting Mike linebacker. This Bullough has given teammates trying to step into the roles vacated by playmakers Jerel Worthy, Trenton Robinson, and Kevin Pickelman.

"I just tell them that they are here for a reason, they are at Michigan State for a reason" said Bullough. "We've had back-to-back double digit win seasons so they are obviously a good player or they wouldn't be here. Now it is just settling down, learning what you need to learn because this is a lot different than high school and let your playing do the talking. The bottom line of why you are here is because of how you played in high school. In high school you basically just run around and do whatever you want. So learn what you've got to do and after that just play football."

Bullough will have similar advice for Michigan State's redshirt freshmen linebackers looking to carve out a niche for themselves on defense behind starters like himself, Denicos Allen, and Chris Norman, who will be held out of contact this spring after offseason shoulder surgery.

"I think it is good just to add experience in our depth chart," said Bullough. "We obviously have a lot of capable guys that have been playing a little here or there, or maybe they got redshirted last year. But just to be able to come out here and run our plays and run our defense is a tremendous difference as opposed to running the scout team last year. It gives those guys a chance to learn it and to give them a fighting chance to earn a spot or playing time next year."

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