Michigan State's first commitment of the 2012 recruiting cycle elicits name-brand recognition for Spartan fans. And the good news for followers of green and white, Riley Bullough is living up to the brand.
Bullough, who will be a senior at Traverse City St. Francis in the fall and committed to Michigan State this week, isn't in the middle linebacker image of his brother, Max, his father, Shane, or his uncle Chuck - all of whom were star defensive players for Michigan State. But make no mistake, the DNA has kicked in and produced another full-tilt Bullough.
Riley Bullough (6-2, 205) has blossomed into being worthy of early scholarship offers from major conference programs, albeit at a slightly different position than his name might suggest.
"He is different than Max," said Traverse City St. Francis head coach Greg Vaughan. "They have different strengths. I think Riley is more that outside guy than he is an inside Mike 'backer like Max is, but I see the same things out of him as far as the leadership and the pure aggressiveness. He just wants to get after the ball. He doesn't care who's in front of him."
Riley Bullough committed to Michigan State on Friday. On Saturday, Bullough was joined by Ohio offensive line prospects Benny McGowan and Zach Higgins in committing to the Spartans, making it a three-commitment weekend for MSU.
News of Bullough's commitment broke on Saturday morning. He selected Michigan State over Iowa and Wisconsin. Notre Dame, which recruited Max hard, scouted Riley and was in the evaluation stages when he committed to the Spartans.
Riley has followed a similar developmental pattern to his older brother, maturing into an explosive, punishing athlete almost overnight.
"Like Max, Riley in the last year, has become a completely different body type than he was a sophomore," Vaughan said. "He is 6-2, 205 right now but there is not any fat there. He was about 195 in the fall. He hasn't lost his speed as he has gotten bigger and stronger. Some teams have looked at him as more of a run-support type of safety but I think State is probably looking at him more as probably an outside linebacker type.
"Max left here at 225 pounds and now he is almost 250 pounds. I don't think those kids stop growing. I think Max is bigger height-wise than he was when he left us a year ago. I don't think Riley is going to be any different. I don't know that he is going to be as tall as his brother or definitely as big. So I think he is more of an outside linebacker type of kid."
That's the what Iowa saw him as when the Hawkeyes became the first to offer him.
"Notre Dame was looking at him at safety," Vaughan said. "There were a couple of other schools that were looking at him as a hybrid safety/out-linebacker type. Iowa was looking at him as an outside linebacker and I think Wisconsin was kind of in between the two. I think a lot of it is his weight."
Bullough started at quarterback as a sophomore in 2009, at 6-foot, 175, according to Vaughan.
"He has grown two inches, and his body development has definitely changed," Vaughan said. "Where he was as a sophomore and where he is right now is a totally different type of kid. As far as his talent and athleticism and stuff, that in the last year has just increased.
"The first thing that a lot of them notice is they have seen him in the past, they have seen him in camps, just physically looking at him, they say, 'Yep, now we see it.' Because he has grown, and he is a thick young lad, with the muscles, and he has worked hard on that. So that's the first thing, just passing that eye test, the, 'Yep, we see it, we get it now, this isn't about being Max's younger brother and potential, this kid is a true kid that we need to recruit.'"
Riley continues to star as a touch-passing, swashbuckling, shoulder-lowering quarterback for a Division VII state power. The leadership and poise that he shows as an offensive signal caller also serves him well on defense.
"He had no problem putting his brother in places he needed to, even though he was a sophomore and his brother was a senior," Vaughan said. "He is a very strong leader, and on the field he is a kid that just wants to get after the ball and get people down.
"For Riley to come up as a sophomore and be on a team that we had which included two Big Ten players and a bunch of other seasoned players who had been doing very well, and to come in (as a sophomore) and his ability to step in, take it over, not really be fazed by it, was impressive."
Bullough threw two TD passes in the '09 state title game, helping St. Francis to a 42-8 victory over Hudson.
"In our system, I allow him a lot of freedom to do a lot of audibles and make a lot of calls and he made some changes that has won us some games," Vaughan said. "That's when I knew the kid was a special football player."
Then came the DNA.
"Even his brother Byron, who is a freshman (at St. Francis), who is a starter on our basketball team, they all seem to grow two or three inches between the end of their freshman year and the beginning of their junior year," Vaughan said. "Max was the same way. They just all the sudden balloon up. Where some kids might grow height, and weight and then grow into it, with these kids it doesn't take them very long to mature into their bodies and Riley has done that.
"We don't necessarily play a defense that aligns itself to a 4-3 or a true outside 'backer or a safety position, which some teams were recruiting him as. The college coaches just like his aggressiveness and how he gets to the ball, and when they meet him in person just looking him in the eye they can see that he is business. He has that desire. He has that look in his eye that most good defensive players have."
Some may have viewed it as a foregone conclusion that Riley Bullough would follow the family tree to Michigan State. But Vaughan says Riley thoroughly researched his options.
"Riley did a great job of making sure he looked at the schools that were interested in him," Vaughan said. "He wanted to make sure this (Michigan State) is the right fit. Obviously, an easy choice might be to go where my dad, my grandpa, my uncle and my brother all went, but for him, he's got that maturity."
He visited Wisconsin and Notre Dame, and took two trips to Iowa.
"His goal was to play Division I and he wants to make sure he can do everything he can to make sure he is successful at that level," Vaughan said. "Obviously it helps to have those blood lines. He understands what it's all about. They have been around to know what it's going to take, whereas with a lot of other kids it's such an eye-opening experience going from high school to college.
"Riley is a goal-driven kid. He is very successful academically, and it shows up.
"He is in a class that has goals of winning a state championship and leaving on top, so I would like to see the leadership ability keep coming out of him, getting other kids involved and get after it. I don't worry about his physical development because that whole family, they work hard."
And they seem to work best in green and white.
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