Max Bullough is the latest in the Bullough Dynasty at Michigan State. He has been contributing since he was a true freshman and finished his career as an All-Big Ten performer, helping lead the Spartans to a Big Ten Title and a win in the Rose Bowl this year against Wisconsin.
We discuss his career at Michigan State, the process of building a program and just how much the school means to him. Beyond that, we talk about what he has done to make his case for the NFL for why he can succeed in the NFL, he addresses the weight gain at the East-West Shrine Game and discusses his role as a leader. And I get a chance to bag on what I feel is the worst trophy in all of college football.
Peter Smith: How long have you been committed to Michigan State? Was this since birth?
Max Bullough: Well, I mean, yea, but I actually have equal family that went to Notre Dame and played. My mom went to Notre Dame, her dad played there, her brother played there. So, I have equal family ties at both schools, so at the end of the day, it came down to those two, but Michigan State is where I always wanted to go. Going to the games as kids, seeing my dad get hyped, and just feeling like it was a family atmosphere, it was a place I always wanted to go and that’s why I ended up committing early before my junior year of high school.
PS: So your decision was on one side or the other of one of the lamest trophies in all of college football; the Megaphone.
MB: (laughs) yep.
PS: Do you guys even like that trophy or is it just sort of a thing?
MB: No, it’s just a thing. It’s all about the game. The biggest trophy that we really put a lot of emphasis on is the Paul Bunyan, but the megaphone, it’s more about the game and the rivalry of it.
PS: Yea, that’s the thing. The Paul Bunyan Trophy is awesome.
MB: It is awesome.
PS: It has a great story behind it-
MB: -It looks cool.
PS: Meanwhile, the megaphone appears to be celebrating male cheerleaders.
MB: Yea, we really don’t know. That is how much we don’t look into it.
PS: The year before you come in as a freshman, the team goes 6-7. You’ve been a lifelong fan, so you watched them with their ups and downs. You guys go out and win 10 games. What was the change when you got there?
MB: Well, yea, I’ve followed Michigan State ever since I can remember. I’ve been going to games every year since I was a kid, watched them since I was growing up, obviously. What I always wanted Michigan State to do, what I always wanted to be a part of at Michigan State was bringing Michigan State back to the top. Bringing back Michigan State to where I think it belongs, where it has always been in my house, in my mind and given my family history and tradition there, so I wanted to be a part of that, not only for myself but for Michigan State, to put them back on the map.
You obviously have to give credit to (Mark Dantonio) Coach D and his stuff, done an outstanding job. He’s a great coach and he’s been like a father figure to all of us. Most importantly, except for a few minor adjustments we’ve made, the continuity of the staff has been really the difference, especially on defense. You know, I think that’s why we were able to be as good as we were and consistent as we were because we had the same guys. Same players, same coaches and there’s confidence in that. My freshman year, we won 10 games. I think we started to get the ball rolling and get us going in the right direction and putting us on the map.
PS: As good as you all were that year, how eye opening was the bowl game against Alabama?
MB: The way Coach D said it, you get to the top of one mountain and there’s another one to climb. That’s the way life is, especially in sports. We were excited to be in that bowl game. It was a great experience, the week, but you’re right, Alabama got healthy at the right time and they really got the better end of us, but that set us up for the next two years and the success we had. We knew we were a good football team and we had a good program going, but we still had a ways to go.
It’s just a great example of once you accomplish something, there’s always something next. There’s always somebody better. There’s always somebody that’s done more and it’s really a never ending climb when you’re a football player, a football team, a coach, whatever it may be.
PS: Did Alabama show you just what it took for Michigan State to take that next step as a program?
MB: Yea, absolutely. We wanted to be the best. I’ve always said this for years. We want to play the best, we want to beat the best, and that year Alabama was arguably the best team in the country, especially at that point. They had injuries that year and they all came back, so it was just another landmark that we had to set for ourselves and our program.
I think that was a good eye opening experience. It definitely was for me. I was just a freshman, but I was there for the preparations and played in the game a little bit. It was a good eye opening experience for all of us to see it and watch it and watch how good they were and watch how good we wanted to be and I think that was a good example to look forward and I think we’re there.
PS: Just how big was the game against Notre Dame your freshman year for you? Third game of your career, close game, big game for you personally.
MB: Yea, the fake field goal game my freshman year. For me, that was huge because that was the first time I had really gotten meaningful minutes on defense, because our starting linebacker, Eric Gordon, got hurt. He was knocked out of the game. So then I was in on third downs and like you said, that was the third game of my career, I was an 18 year old kid and there’s a lot of pressure. That’s a big game for people that don’t know Michigan State and Notre Dame, it’s a huge rivalry and a game we wanted to win and needed to win, so I’ll always remember that game.
My most memorable experience is that first time being in there, feeling the pressure. You practice it a million times, but to actually have to go out there and do it, it’s a night game and a close game, it was something I’ll remember forever. And then I was on the field, I was the left wing on the fake field goal, so that was an unbelievable moment in itself, forget the rest of the game.
PS: Do you still get grief from Notre Dame fans and even those in your family about the alleged false start and illegal man down field and everything with that play?
MB: Naw, naw. It’s pretty much sailed over, but we did for a while.
PS: Your sophomore year, Michigan State is in two of the best games of the year, first with the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin and everything that went into that. What was it like to be a part of that game and everything that went into it?
MB: Your first goal is always to get there and the second goal one is to win it. Looking back now, three years later, whether they’re still there like I’m just getting out of there or guys that have moved onto the NFL, there was a lot of great football players on the field that day.
I remember that game like it was yesterday, playing Russell (Wilson), all those guys, it was fun being part of the first one, I think that’s really special. Obviously, we would have like to win it, but I think that set us up for my senior year when we were able to go there and actually win, because we’ve been there, we’ve had that experience and that’s obviously a phenomenal atmosphere to play in.
PS: Did the fact that it was the first Big Ten Title game enter in at any point or was it simply the next game that you had to win?
MB: Well, it’s always you gotta go out and win no matter the circumstances, whether it’s your first game, your last game, bowl game, so that’s always number one. But for me, I thought it was cool because I always wanted there to be a championship game. I didn’t like the year before, not taking anything away from that team and those seniors, but to tie three ways for the Big Ten Championship was great, it was a fun experience and unbelievable, but you want to play to win it all, whether you don’t win it and you lose, I’d still rather have that opportunity to win it all and say you’re the sole champion.
PS: As good a game as that was, the one after may have been even better when you played Georgia in the bowl game. Two great defensive teams with a ton of great talent slugging it out for four quarters and in the fashion you guys were able to win it. How big of a win was that game for you personally?
MB: Well, first of all, that was a fun game to play in. If you were there, the atmosphere, fans there for both teams. Obviously, Georgia was not that far away, so they had a pretty full stadium there. It was a great football team and you’re right, there was NFL stars all over the field as well for both teams.
For me, it was a landmark game for Michigan State. We hadn’t won a bowl game. Coach D hadn’t won a bowl game. He’d been to a few of them, but to beat a team like Georgia that was playing very, very well at the beginning of the season that year and had two losses the rest of the year, that was a very good football team. You’ve got guys like Aaron Murray, who’s a great quarterback that’s gonna be drafted this year. It’s a fun environment when you can look back on it and say wow, I played against that guy, he’s a great player and now he’s playing in the league.
Those are some little things that you’ll always remember, but like I said, I think it was a good game for Michigan State as a program. To be able to beat an SEC team and just put ourselves on the map. You’re always fighting for that respect, especially at Michigan State; it’s always been like that and I think that’s something that opened people’s eyes.