ORLANDO -- A year ago, Jon Bullard put his NFL dreams on pause, but Florida’s dominant defensive tackle hasn’t sweated his choice all season.
“It’s the best decision I made in my life,” the senior said Wednesday.
“I thought about coming out with the coaching chance. You hear things about how that’s going to be and you have to learn new things. But I buckled down. Me and my family made a decision to come back, and I think it was a great decision. I’m playing the best ball I’ve played since I’ve been here.”
After a solid junior season, Bullard was viewed as a potential mid-round pick, but the former five-star recruit opted to return for one final year in Gainesville and his decision is likely to pay significant dividends for the future.
Bullard earned All-American honors in 2015 and emerged as a possible first-round pick after leading UF with 17.5 tackles for loss -- third-best in the SEC. He also recorded 6.5 sacks, tying pass-rushing specialist Alex McCalister for the team lead.
First-year coach Jim McElwain has praised Bullard’s selflessness and maturity all season, and on Wednesday, Florida’s defensive coordinator Geoff Collins called the senior “the poster child” for how Bullard handled both his NFL future and Florida’s coaching transition.
“Him being a premier player last year, I’m sure he wrestled with the decision to come back or to leave,” Collins said.
“But the things he did in the offseason, the things he did throughout the year to make himself one of the best players in college football, you don’t see guys do that a lot.”
SHOW YOUR BRAND
As Florida prepares for Friday’s Citrus Bowl showdown against No. 17 Michigan, a handful of future Gators are readying to showcase their skills on the same field the very next day.
Four UF oral commits will participate in Saturday’s Under Armour All-American Game (Noon, ESPN2): WR Josh Hammond, DE Antonneous Clayton, CB Chauncey Gardner and OL Brett Heggie.
A number of other blue-chip targets on Florida’s board will also play in the all-star game, including linebacker Mack Wilson, wideouts Nate Craig-Myers, Eli Stove (Auburn commit) and Sam Bruce (a Miami commit) and defensive tackle Shavar Manuel.
With so many top prospects in the same area code, Florida’s first-year coach Jim McElwain said Friday’s game is “an opportunity to show your brand.”
“Look, that’s part of advertising, right? This is no different. We get a chance to take a three-hour block and put the University of Florida on for a three-hour commercial.”
Florida’s 2016 class currently has 25 commits and ranks No. 8 nationally according to 247Sports.
THIS & THAT
Both Michigan and Florida spent time with kids from a local Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday. … McElwain said Florida’s practices this week have been “pretty darn good.” … Michigan’s freshman star Jabrill Peppers remains questionable for Friday, as the three-way playmaker is reportedly battling an undisclosed hand injury. Peppers, a former five-star recruit, is the Wolverines’ starting safety, and the redshirt freshman also returns kicks, punts and plays a little running back. On the season, he has 45 tackles, 10 pass breakups and two touchdowns on 72 yards rushing. UF is wary of Peppers’ talent, but sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor said, “We’ve got 11 Jabrill Peppers on defense. Michigan, they only got one of him. We got 11.”
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