If nothing else, they know it’s in his genes.
Even if Max Bullough wasn’t a third-team All American linebacker, even if he wasn’t a two-year captain of the Michigan State football team, even if he didn’t lead the Spartans with 76 tackles in 2013, the Texans could at least trust his family lineage.
See, Bullough, who signed with the Texans as a free agent after going undrafted, comes from a long line of football players. A really long line. The Bullough name means something, especially in Michigan.
“It’s a name that I’ve been honored to carry, obviously since I was born,” Max Bullough said on Saturday during Texans rookie minicamp. “At Michigan State, it held a lot of weight and that’s something I’m used to. I look at it as a positive, as an advantage; I can go to people that understand what I’m going through, as opposed to a stresser.”
Bullough’s grandfather is the great Hank Bullough, an absolute legend at Michigan State. Hank Bullough, now 80, had a long coaching career – after his time as a Spartan and his three-year pro career – and is one of the people credited for bringing the 3-4 defense to the NFL. Hank Bullough is Max’s paternal grandfather. His maternal grandfather is Jim Morse, a former star Notre Dame running back.
Max's father, Shane, was a linebacker at Michigan State from 1983-86. And three of his uncles, Chuck Bullough (Michigan State linebacker, 88-91), Bobby Morse (Michigan State running back, 83-86) and Jim Morse (Notre Dame cornerback, 76-77) all played college football.
Max's younger brother Riley is a linebacker at Michigan State and his youngest brother Byron will be arriving at Michigan State this season to play linebacker as well.
It’s a long line of football players but it all started with Max’s grandfather, Hank.
“My grandfather has been great for me,” Max Bullough said. “He’s been a guy that’s been a leader, a role model for me, someone that’s been through a lot of the similar things I have, in terms of playing football around the game. (He) knows a lot about it. Knows the stresses of it, the pressures, the positive and negatives. Him and my whole family combined have been a great resource for me, whether it’s at Michigan State, high school and now that I’m trying out in the pros.”
Bullough’s name won’t help him too much in Houston, though. As the rookies took the field this past weekend, Bullough wasn’t a star player anymore. Instead, he was just one of 24 undrafted players trying to make an impression on the Texans’ first-year coaching staff.
And his name didn’t keep him out of trouble at Michigan State either. In 2011, Bullough was charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol and eluding police. Last year, he was suspended for Michigan State’s Rose Bowl game against Stanford. The reason for the suspension was never revealed and although he’s reportedly talked to NFL teams about the suspension, the reason for the suspension is still unknown.
“I’m not talking about anything in the past,” he said late last week. “I’m looking forward to the future with the Texans.”
But it appears his past might have had something to do with not being drafted.
“I think anytime you are in this situation you focus on your positives as a player, you understand your strengths, and then you attack and try to overcome any weaknesses or try to make those strengths for yourself,” he said. “I’m in this position now because of whatever I did in the past, or what I didn’t do in the past whether it be good or bad, but at the end of the day we are all here doing the same thing, we are in the same meeting rooms, and we are trying to become Houston Texans come fall.”
The Texans look like a good situation for Bullough. Obviously, one starting inside linebacker job belongs to Brian Cushing. But after that, things get a little hazy. The team brings back Jeff Tarpinian, Mike Mohamed and Justin Tuggle from last year’s roster. All three have the ability to play inside but none of them own the spot. The team could also elect to move Brooks Reed inside, which is something the Texans have flirted with in the past few seasons.
But if he performs well throughout training camp, Bullough could very well find a roster spot in Houston.
“I think Max is a guy that has come in here and he came from a really good college program,” Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said. “He came from a program run by Mark Dantonio, who I have a ton of respect for. Coming from the Big Ten, Mark has built that program into a Big Ten champion. We knew he was well coached. He’s come in here and worked very hard with the other guys. He seems to be communicating well and doing the things that we’re asking him to do in the first two days here.”
Bullough might have a good shot at making the Texans but many thought he would have a good shot at getting drafted too. NFL.com projected him as a fourth- or fifth-rounder but he never heard his name called.
Aside from being the defensive leader for the fourth-best defense in Division I football last season (the Spartans gave up 274.38 yards per game), Bullough also did well at the Combine in Indianapolis. His 30 reps on the bench press were tops for linebackers and his 4.78 40 time alleviated some concerns about his speed.
Yet, he never heard his name – his famous, football-backed name – get called during the draft.
“To be honest with you, I’ve really moved on from anything except these last few days in Houston,” Bullough said. “It doesn’t matter how any of us got here. What matters is we’re here.”
If nothing else, they know it’s in his genes.