Jonathan Bullard never made it from Shelby to Bank of America Stadium for a Carolina Panthers game, but he idolized Julius Peppers growing up.
“My older brother wore No. 90 because of Julius, and I wore No. 90 because of my older brother,” Bullard said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “But I don’t tell him that.
“I tell him Julius Peppers.”
Bullard went from Boiling Springs Crest as one of the top recruits in the nation to the University of Florida, and now the defensive lineman has the potential to be a first-round choice in April’s draft.
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Bullard showed great versatility for the Gators in his four seasons there. He had 18 sacks last season at Florida.
“I can do whatever you want me to on your defensive line, inside to outside, quickness to hold the point (of attack),” Bullard said. “I think I’m going to bring a lot to your team.”
But while he can play outside in a 3-4 defensive scheme, he made it clear that he wants to play on the inside of the line.
Specifically, Bullard wants to be a defensive tackle in a 3-technique, a position where the defender lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard.
“Just being closer to the ball, mismatching the guards, quicker first step and key the ball faster,” Bullard said explaining why.
At 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds, Bullard seems like a good fit for that position, which he has been groomed for over the years. His older brother, Nelson, was an all-conference player at Lenior-Rhyne.
Bullard dominated at Crest as a five-star recruit and the best defensive end in the nation, according to Rivals.com. He had 82 tackles and 16 sacks during his senior season with the Chargers and had his choice of colleges.
Bullard picked Florida over the likes of South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn. That followed the same path as former Crest and Florida defender Brandon Spikes, although Bullard said that didn’t influence his decision to go to the Gators as much as current New England Patriots defender Dominique Easley did.
When Bullard got to Florida, he was able to keep No. 90 in honor of his brother and Peppers.
“(Peppers) was just a dominant player,” Bullard said. “He did what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it. I just grew up and watched him play and take over games in Carolina and fell in love with the way he played.”
Bullard isn’t Peppers on the field, but he aims to be as disruptive as the future Hall of Famer.
Because of how Bullard sees himself in the NFL, it’s possible he’d fit in with the hometown NFL team. The Panthers run a 4-3 defense that, up front, focuses on one gap. That allows for the front four to use their quickness and strength to get in a gap.
Carolina went with tackles in consecutive rounds of the 2013 draft with Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, but the Panthers could be looking to add another young tackle to that group.
“It’s a pretty strong defensive tackle draft. You know that doesn’t upset me,” Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said. “You’ve got to see how it all flushes out. But it’s strong.”
Bullard could be there at No. 30, and he smiled at the prospect of playing near his hometown. He said his Crest fans followed him immediately to Florida, so he could only imagine what it’d be like playing for the Panthers.
But to even be in this position to get drafted, be it in Carolina or elsewhere, means a lot to the kid from Cleveland County.
“It’s good for all the younger guys. I go back just to show them it doesn’t matter where you go,” Bullard said. “Yeah I went to a big school, but there are a lot of guys (in Shelby). We have a lot of talent at Crest and Shelby still.
“A lot of those guys are going off to college, maybe Division II, maybe Division I-AA. I go back to show my face and show it’s possible coming from that area with great athletes like we have.”