Nearly every Spartans fan knows the story of the Bullough family.
Dating back to the 1950’s, a long chain of Bullough men have committed their hearts and souls to Michigan State. With the graduation of Max, Riley now assumes the role of the elder Bullough at MSU, closely followed by his younger brother, Byron.
Riley follows in the footsteps of Max, looking to earn a starting linebacker position this spring. The competition will be stiff, as several other players will be vying for the starting positions. But Riley has the strength and heart of a Bullough.
Riley recently joined Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. on Spartan Nation Radio, delving deep into Riley’s life outside of football, including family and his musical ability.
Since high school, Riley has been searching for a position. The second oldest of Shane and LeeAnn Bullough’s four children, Riley played quarterback, linebacker, safety and even a little running back at St. Francis High School.
Projected as a linebacker when he came to Michigan State, Riley made the switch to running back last offseason between his true freshman and redshirt freshman seasons. MSU’s offensive coaching staff was thrilled, as the Spartans backfield needed a star to step up.
Jeremy Langford soon captured the starting role in 2013, rolling up 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns by the end of the season. Riley racked up 91 yards on 22 carries, but Langford was the undeniable workhorse of the ground game.
To better utilize Bullough, the Spartan coaching staff opted to switch him back to defense at the conclusion of the season.
“I love being back on defense,” Bullough said. “I truly think that’s where I belong and I think that’s where the coaches see me in the future so I’m glad to be back there and back with that group of guys.”
Winter workouts haven’t phased Bullough as he makes the transition back to linebacker.
“I’m having fun and I’m looking forward to spring,” he said. “I think we have a good team and a bunch of good guys around me and I’m having fun with them. So I’m just having a great time right now.”
As he prepares himself for spring practice, Bullough realizes how hard he will have to work to earn a starting job. He currently projects as either a mike [middle] or sam [strongside] linebacker.
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi recently said the depth chart at the position is fluid, but Ed Davis, Darien Harris and Taiwan Jones will likely enter spring ball as the starters.
“Really at any of our linebacker positions, you have to be a leader,” Bullough said. “You gotta be able to tell people what to do, tell them when they’re doing something wrong. The whole defense looks to the linebackers as leaders and they’re in control most of the time so that’s my biggest thing going into spring. I gotta become a vocal leader, I gotta lead by example and I think I’m ready to do that, so I’m excited for it.”
Riley may also have to compete with his brother Byron. While Byron currently projects at the star linebacker spot, anything could happen.
Either way, Riley is excited to play with Byron, who thinks very highly of his older brother. Of Byron’s high praise of him, Riley said:
“It means a lot. I think that’s a testament to our entire family. I think I was like that with Max,” he said. “It really is a special thing, being in college with your older brother, your younger brother, it doesn’t really matter. I think when Byron gets here, we’ll get extremely close, that’s how it was with Max and me. With Byron, he’s a tremendous athlete, he’s bled Green his entire life.”
Riley looks forward to helping Byron through the trials and tribulations of college life. Riley has some good advice for the youngest member of the Bullough family.
“The biggest thing is I think you gotta be yourself from day one that you get here,” Riley said. “That was kind of tough for me. As you know … I can be a little bit weird out there. Good advice for any freshman is to come in and be yourself.”
Calling Riley “weird” is a bit of an overstatement. “Unique” is a better word. After all, how many football players double as musicians?
“I started writing songs when I was younger, probably around middle school on my guitar,” Riley said. “I would have my mom come down and listen, see what she would think. Who knows what she thought at the time. It just grew from there, I taught myself how to play drums and the piano, I played guitar for a while. Later on in high school, I wrote more songs and I switched to country a little bit, and that’s where I am now. That’s just how it is. In Traverse City, we’re country people for the most part, we love the music and I love to write music.” CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO HIS LATEST SONG OVERSEAS, a tribute to our soldiers.
Bullough’s love for music provides a welcome distraction during football season, allowing him to stay sane.
“It definitely helps to have balance, especially during the season when day in, day out, all day, it’s football,” Bullough said. “If I can come home, play some music, that’s how I would get a relief I guess you could say. It’s tough for some guys because all they have is football, football all the time, so it’s hard to get away. But I think if you have something that balances it out, it’s really important.”
While the origin of his musical talent is a mystery, Bullough identifies closely with his mother, LeeAnn.
“She’s definitely special to me because I get my personality, everything I do comes from her,” Bullough said. “That’s between me and her. Yes, she doesn’t get the recognition she deserves, but she’s been there for my whole life, every game, every sporting event, cheering us on, making us dinner every night. She means so much to us and it is important for … people to know that she means a ton to us.”
Another important person in Riley’s life is his grandfather, Hank Bullough.
The patriarch of the family recently suffered a stroke, but is on the road to recovery.
“He’s getting better,” Riley said. “He’s moved a couple of times in the hospital and now he’s in physical training, trying to get his speech and movement back. He’s working really hard. He’s making leaps and bounds from where he was a few weeks ago, so that’s great to see.
“It’s kind of hard to tell now. Coming back from a stroke, it takes a while to get all your sense back fully. But he’s making progress and hopefully he’ll be back soon.”
(Spartan Nation would like to wish Hank well as he continues the recovery process.)
Riley and Byron have high expectations, following in the giant footsteps of Hank, Shane and Max Bullough.
Don’t underestimate Riley and Byron, however. Each has a strong work ethic and admirable determination. In fact, Riley admired how much Byron has added.
“Byron is getting huge,” Riley said. “He’s got crazy broad shoulders, he’s about as tall as me now, about 10 pounds lighter. He’s going to be mid-240’s when everything’s said and done.”
But Riley still remembers Byron as a feisty little brother.
“What’s funny about us growing up is that Max and Byron would be playing competitive stuff all the time while [my sister] Holly and I would go off and do our own thing,” Riley said. “So growing up, it was always me and Holly against those two. Byron and Max would always get in fights when we were younger, that’s just kind of how it was growing up. It’s changed nowadays that we’re older, but that’s how it was when were younger.”
And don’t overlook the second youngest Bullough in the family: Holly.