Power Player: Former linebacker Bullard finding success in baseball

Senior designated hitter Chris Bullard makes contact with a ball late in WKU’s game against Louisville at Bowling Green Ballpark on Tuesday night. Bullard’s first at-bat scored two runs for the Toppers, and he also had a home run in the third inning. WKU won 15-5.

Brad Stephens

Chris Bullard is a name familiar to WKU athletics.

The Cataula, Ga., native played four years as a linebacker for the Topper football team, collecting 151 career tackles and 11 sacks.

But Bullard has now taken his talents a short walk down the Avenue of Champions from Houchens-Smith Stadium to Nick Denes Field, home of WKU baseball.

Bullard, a senior, has established himself as the team’s everyday designated hitter, and he’s hit three home runs and driven in 10 runs over the Toppers’ last seven games.

But Bullard’s college baseball success hasn’t been immediate.

Bullard was drafted out of high school in the 45th round of the 2007 MLB Player Draft by the Los Angeles Angels.

But he turned down minor league baseball to play college football for then-WKU head coach David Elson.

Elson preferred Bullard stick with football instead of splitting his time between both sports.

Once Elson was fired in 2009 and Willie Taggart was named his replacement, Taggart allowed Bullard to play baseball as a junior in 2010.

However, Bullard still had to balance football spring practices and a full Division I baseball schedule.

He struggled pulling double duty and finished the 2010 season with a .077 average, two hits and one RBI.

But WKU Head Coach Chris Finwood said the hot-hitting Bullard has finally gotten the hang of college baseball now that he can focus solely on the sport.

“This year he’s just baseball only,” Finwood said following Bullard’s three-RBI performance in WKU’s 15-5 win over Louisville on Tuesday. “He’s always in the cages working, and it’s great to see when kids are working hard for it to pay off.”

Finwood said Bullard’s improvements were evidenced in a first-inning, two-out double in the Louisville game.

Bullard worked a 2-2 count before taking a low pitch and looping it down the right-field line for a game-tying, two-RBI hit.

Finwood said it was an at-bat Bullard wasn’t capable of a year ago.

“(Last year) he would’ve swung at a pitch probably out of the zone and struck out,” Finwood said. “It wasn’t a bad pitch, but he went down and got it.

“And he’s so strong that if he just gets the barrel on it, it’s going to go somewhere in a hurry.”

Bullard credited Finwood for helping him knock the rust off his baseball swing coming into his senior year.

“Coach Finwood did a great job helping me get my swing back,” Bullard said. “And my teammates also, there’s been countless guys that stay after practice to help me take extra balls and take fly balls.”

Finwood said Bullard has been a presence not just on the field, but in the clubhouse as well.

He added that Bullard even helps senior catcher Matt Rice put on his catcher’s gear in the dugout in between innings.

Rice said Bullard has provided both an on- and off-field boost for WKU.

“He’s a guy that comes out every day and plays hard and is a great teammate,” Rice said. “He works hard, and he would be the first one to pick you up, even on the days he’s not playing.

“So I can’t say enough about his character, and he’s been playing great.”