Most of Hattiesburg’s defense will be filled with first-year starters this upcoming season, so seventh-year head coach Tony Vance is amped-up to have hybrid player AJ Bullock back in purple and gold. The 6-foot, 176 pound standout will give the Tigers much-needed options on the defensive side of the ball in 2019, according to Vance
“AJ’s gonna see some action in the defensive backfield as well as around the line of scrimmage,” he said. “He’s a guy we’re gonna move around and put him in position to make plays for us.”
Those playmaking abilities allowed Bullock burst onto the scene as a junior last season. Playing primarily at strong safety, he led the Tigers in interceptions (3) and fumble recoveries (3), earning the nickname ‘ball magnet’ from Vance.
“If the ball’s in the air, he’s got a chance to get it,” Vance said. “And if it’s on the ground, he either put it there or is gonna pick it up.”
Vance expects the Tigers will utilize those ball skills on offense this year, too. A two-sport athlete at Hattiesburg High School, Bullock credits baseball and specifically playing in the outfield to his ball-hawking ability on the football field.
“A baseball is smaller and harder to catch, and you gotta get there faster,” Bullock explained. “When the football’s in the air, it’s a lot slower and bigger. I got more reaction time to it and see it better.
“It’s just about playing and being where I’m supposed to be.”
As a senior, Bullock expects more of the same this upcoming season, with hopes of earning a spot in the 33rd annual Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game.
“My ninth grade year, when I was on special teams, Team Mississippi was practicing out here [at D.I. Patrick Stadium],” Bullock said. “Me and one of my friends came down, and I told him, ‘My senior year, I’m gonna be out there’.”
It’s one of several personal goals Bullock hopes to accomplish in his final go-round with the Tigers. In addition to being recognized as one of the state’s best players, he’s also striving to be the leader Hattiesburg needs this season. Vance has zero doubts that Bullock will fill that role well.
“With AJ back on defense, knowing he’s over there and is gonna make sure everybody gets lined up and doing what they’re supposed to do, it’s gonna be huge for us.”
Bullock’s ultimate goal, of course, is helping bring the Hattiesburg football program its first state championship.
“There’s already a lot of doubt, but I know what we’re capable of,” Bullock said. “That just builds it up and makes it even better.”
Bullock and the Tigers will open the 2019 season on Saturday, Aug. 24 at Petal.