Photo by Billy Kingsley
Alex Bullard feels like he could play anywhere.
Given a painful loss in his family, right now the offensive lineman wants that to be closer to home, so he's packing up at Notre Dame and heading to Tennessee.
Already an emphasis in recruiting, the Vols added another substantial piece to their rebuilding project on the offensive line with the Franklin native's decision to transfer from the Fighting Irish back to his home state after the death of his father last year.
Pending the approval of a hardship waiver from the NCAA, the sophomore could be eligible to play right away for UT, will enroll in classes next week on campus and should provide yet another boost to an offensive line that's seemingly growing every day.
"That was tough for me when my dad passed, and given those circumstances, I had already thought about possibly transferring right then and there," Bullard said by phone on Friday. "Me and my family just decided that coming back home and being closer to my mom and my family was probably the best thing to do."
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly agreed with that sentiment, and in a statement released by that program on Friday announced that Bullard had been released from his scholarship.
Bullard, a former four-star recruit out of Brentwood Academy listed at 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, was expected to contribute for the Irish next season as they go through their own rebuilding process. Now he's a part of one with the Vols, who've clearly made it a point to start with the offensive line.
"Due to the declining health and eventual passing of (his father) Louis Bullard, the last 12 months have been very challenging for Alex and his family," Kelly said in the release. "Throughout this very trying time, (they) have continued to exude the utmost class and dignity and I wish Alex and his family all the best in the future and will keep them in my thoughts. Alex is a great young man that I enjoyed working with this year and fully understand and support his desires to attend a school closer to his mother and sister."
That opportunity was clearly the deciding factor for Bullard, though the chance to compete for a job right away at a program he's followed his whole life certainly didn't hurt any. Bullard played in just three games last year for Notre Dame after redshirting in 2009, but the tackle was thought to be a big part of the future for the program before he elected to leave.
And with UT making a concerted effort to fortify an offensive front that entered last season with no starting experience of significance at any position, Bullard should slide into the two-deep at a minimum this spring.
The Vols leaned heavily on true freshmen James Stone and Ja'Wuan James in Derek Dooley's first season, and fellow newcomer Zach Fulton also impressed the coaching staff when thrown in with sophomore tackle Dallas Thomas and redshirt freshman Jer'Quari Schofield. UT is losing versatile senior Jarrod Shaw, but it's already claimed four commitments from linemen for this year's recruiting class after adding Marcus Jackson's pledge this week at the Under Armour All-American Game.
Throw in the addition of Bullard, who would have three years of eligibility if he wins his appeal, and the Vols could be creating a line talented and deep enough to generate some envy.
"I mean, that really didn't weigh into the decision because I feel like I can play anywhere in the country," Bullard said. "I just have a lot of support there, I know a lot of people up there and, I mean, I grew up a Vol fan all my life.
"I just felt comfortable and I felt like that would make me the most happy."