By Christian Kaposy
In 2017, Riley Bullough made a name for himself in his first training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Whether that name was Joe Dirt because of his hair, or a name given to him after his singing performance in front of the entire team, or even a name after the praise he received from Dirk Koetter on his leadership qualities, he made a name for himself nonetheless.
The middle linebacker, who spent two seasons with the Buccaneers, received this attention due to “Hard Knocks”, the HBO documentary series that follows a team through training camp. Bullough quickly became a fan favorite, which caught the undrafted rookie off guard. “I was just getting to know how the NFL works,” said Bullough. “I wasn’t a huge fan of it, but I think it was a positive.” While Riley became a “Hard Knocks” legend, the Bullough family has a legacy of their own.
Riley, a third generation Spartan, is just a small part of a Bullough legacy that resides in Lansing, Michigan. His grandfather, Hank, played guard for the Michigan State Spartans in the 1950s and later coached at his alma mater for over a decade. Hank was inducted into the Michigan State University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013. Riley’s father, Shane, and uncle, Chuck, both wore the green and white in the 1980s. Chuck, who currently coaches defensive ends at MSU, still holds the school record for tackles in a season, with his 175 tackles in 1991. When it was time for the Bullough siblings, Max, Riley, Byron, and Holly, to choose a college, it was a no-brainer.
“We all dreamed of going to Michigan State growing up,” he explained. “I was the one who went on a few visits to other schools. In the end, I could not get away from Michigan State. It feels like home.” Max, Riley, and Byron all went on to play for Mark Dantonio and the Spartans, while Holly competed in track and cross country at Michigan State. Growing up with fellow teammates in the home has provided some great memories. “It was special. I played high school and college football with my older and younger brothers. Not many people can say that.”
While the Bullough name is rich in Michigan State history, the contributions from Riley’s grandfather has left a lasting impression on the game of football. After his coaching stint at his alma mater, Hank made the jump to the NFL in 1970, coaching linebackers with the Baltimore Colts. Climbing in the coaching ranks, Hank became the defensive coordinator in New England, where he was one of the first to install and implement the 3-4 defense in the NFL. He would go on to coach in Cincinnati and Green Bay before taking the head coaching job in Buffalo midseason in 1985. The 3-4 defense would be expanded to greater lengths during his time with the Bengals, where Dick LeBeau, coaching the secondary at the time, would implement a zone blitz to the scheme.
Signing with the Titans satisfies both on and off-field interests for Bullough. A vocal leader on the field, this is a Jon Robinson/Mike Vrabel kind of guy. Toughness is not a question with Bullough, who played his senior year at Michigan State with a broken shoulder blade. A physical player, Bullough has significant experience playing special teams. Bullough is a very athletic linebacker, who spent some time at running back and kick returner in college. While he is a good fit for this football team, the city is an even better fit for him.
“I was here four or five years ago. The first time I was down on Broadway, I fell in love.” Bullough, who enjoys country music, told his family several years ago that he would like to live in Nashville at some point. Being a free agent this offseason, the stars aligned and brought him to Music City. “It is a dream come true. I am happy to be here.”
Plain and simple: the Bullough family is all ball, all the time. “All we talk about is football. Coaching runs in my family, so we always want to talk ball.”