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Photo Credit: John Peterson

Now With a Scholarship, John Bullock Finding a Home at Linebacker in Nebraska’s Defense

August 12, 2023

When John Bullock walked on at Nebraska, he thought he’d maybe move from defensive back to linebacker. He just knew his body type fit a box defender more than secondary coverage in the Big Ten. But in his first four seasons he stayed in the secondary. He also never played a defensive snap in those four years, just as a special teams contributor in 22 of 24 games the last two seasons.

Then the new coaching staff arrived. They asked Bullock about moving to linebacker after two weeks. He wanted to give it a shot.

“Try that out and I started fitting really well with the defense and what Coach (Tony) White was bringing,” Bullock said on Friday. “Everything else just kind of fell into place. Work my butt off to get on the field, whatever I need to do, I’ll do. I don’t care what position I’ll play. I’ll do whatever you need me to do.”

The Creighton Prep graduate spoke with local media following Friday’s practice. It was the first time he’s answered questions since head coach Matt Rhule put him on scholarship. Rhule hand-picked Bullock and tight end Nate Boerkircher for scholarships following the spring season. The head coach wanted Huskers to see a viable path towards a scholarship could be internal and hard work pays off. With Bullock, his GPS tracking in the winter, academic efforts and buy in stood out.

“His speed first (stood out) and his athleticism, then we moved him over there and he was just real natural, got better and better,” Rhule described the decision in April. “I think he’s a legitimate starting-caliber player. We have a lot of guys there, so there will be a lot of battles.”

Bullock said he always believed in himself to get to this point. He trusted his own abilities and waited for someone or some staff to notice his talents. Rhule, defensive coordinator White and linebackers coach Rob Dvoracek did. The head coach is also high on John’s brother, Alex, at receiver. Both Bullock brothers are making the most of their opportunities and Alex finds himself in close proximity to the scholarship. The brothers share dedication for the football program and to the work ethic of being walk-ons. Perhaps that’s aspects led to Rhule, a former walk-on himself, to recognize and elevate one of them.

“I’ve been working for that moment my whole career here so it’s an honor that coach Rhule gave me that,” Rhule said. “I’ve just always kept my head down, kept working, whatever comes my way comes. I don’t expect anything back for what I do. Very appreciative though, of coach Rhule for that.”

Rhule also pointed to Bullock’s movement within the strength and conditioning program. The former Junior Jay played at 210 last season and weighed at 118 in the spring. Rhule openly wondered if they could get him to 225. Nearly four months later, Bullock is going through preseason camp at 225. He said Friday that he hasn’t lost any speed and feels more explosive during defensive drills.

Bullock is working at Sam and Will linebacker spots, rotating with the likes of Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich. Personally, he’s not phased by White’s defensive philosophy or tweaks.

“Most of the calls aren’t a lot of thinking, it’s get to the ball,” Bullock said. “There is definitely some complexity to it. There are some plays and if there’s motion you’ve got to think a little bit.”

He’s satisfied with his adjustment to the move overall. Bullock likes flying around the field, getting downhill and hitting. He really likes hitting. He also noted physicality at the line and communication while being aligned in the box. Now, his adjustment doesn’t mean he wants to start right away. He’s not worried about the depth chart. Coaches should pick the best players to put on the field and if he makes that cut, so be it, he explained. Bullock simply wants to be a little better heading into Saturday’s scrimmage, Day 12 of preseason camp, than he was the day before.

“I thought I did pretty well, there’s always stuff to work on,” he assessed himself so far. “I didn’t do everything I was supposed to do. That’s why we watch film, get better each day. But I thought collectively as a whole we’re starting to come together and put it together as one. Pretty cool to see.”


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