If Florida Gators freshman defensive end Jonathan Bullard looked like he had extra fire in his belly on Saturday against the Missouri Tigers, there is a good reason for that as he was playing in part for his grandmother, whose recent brush with a serious illness had him back home in Shelby, NC this week.
Bullard, who arrived back in Gainesville, FL on Friday evening and vowed to play for Florida on Saturday, turned in his best game of the season, registering 1.5 sacks for a loss of 13 total yards, hurrying Mizzou quarterback James Franklin thrice and coming up big with another 1.5 tackles, mostly on run plays.
“The d[efensive] line sat down with Bullard and we talked to him. We let him know that we’re there for him. We all rallied around him. We gave our thanks to him for coming back and playing, knowing his situation back at home,” redshirt senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter explained after the game.
“Whatever he needed, he knew we was there. We just gave him our respect for coming back and playing the game for us,” junior DT Sharrif Floyd added. “That was basically it. There was nothing else to do that. That’s hard, it’s hard to lose a family member, especially one you’re so close to.”
Bullard was just one of two freshmen defensive linemen who play their hearts out for the Gators on Saturday. Also getting in on the fun was Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr., who notched two tackles for an 11-yard loss as well as a big seven-yard sack of Franklin.
“Jonathan is a young man that is going to be a heck of a football player here. He’s just getting started, folks. He made a couple really nice plays. Dante made some really nice plays in the run game also got a nice sack, I believe. Very proud of those two young guys coming along,” head coach Will Muschamp said in his post-game press conference.
“It’s very difficult for a freshman to walk into a situation, a place like Florida, and really contribute and play quality, quality snaps. Both of those guys, because of the older guys, the older guys have done a great job with them. They’ve made them accountable to learn what to do and how to do it. They’ve understood the mental intensity you got to play with the way we play.”
Hunter is one of those older guys. The fifth-year defensive tackle is equally impressed with what he has seen from the duo and ranks them up there with some of the best young players he has seen during his time at Florida.
“Bullard came a little bit late, so he didn’t get that full offseason training that Fowler did. Right now they’re both getting it. They’re both learning the system. They’re both in shape right now, and they look pretty good,” he said.
“That shows you how good they’re going to be one day. When they really, really get it, it’s going to be something special. They’re probably the two best freshmen I’ve seen come through here in a long time.”
Getting pressure on quarterbacks has been an issue for the Gators all season long, but if Bullard and Fowler are truly blossoming with three games left to play, it may very well be just the right time for Florida to be able to take advantage of these emerging talents.