Veterans Bullard, Misaalefua anchor outside linebacker spots for WKU football team

Zach Greenwell

This story was originally published Aug. 26, 2010.

Linebacker is the only position on the football field where you’ll find all seniors starting for Western.

And with that experience comes lofty expectations from Head Coach Willie Taggart.

“They’ve got a lot of experience, so going into a game, I don’t want to see those guys having any fear,” Taggart said. “They’ve been in the fire before, and now it’s just executing. Those guys are seniors, and it’s their team. They haven’t won in a while, and I told them that if you continue to do the same thing, you get the same results.”

Senior middle linebacker Thomas Majors led Western with 101 tackles last season, and he’ll be joined by classmates Chris Bullard and Orlando Misaalefua on each side.

Misaalefua started his career at Western at linebacker but switched to safety in 2008. Despite recording 48 tackles in the defensive backfield last season, the Fort Campbell native said he’s glad to be back at what he thinks is his natural position.

“My dad always told me I was a linebacker first,” Misaalefua said. “Safety was fun. It got me running, got me in shape and helped my ball skills. But making that switch, I think I always had the mentality of a linebacker, and it’s been fun.

“Coach has always told me I have the instincts of a linebacker, and I like that.”

Taggart’s had a knack for moving players to more productive positions since he arrived. He said he immediately began evaluating each player with game film after he was hired to determine how the coaches can maximize their impact.

“It was so important to put guys in positions where they could help us,” Taggart said. “It wasn’t whether they liked it or not, but what we needed for our football team. But these guys are happy where they’re at. One plus is that they’re trusting what we say as coaches, and they’re excited about where they’re at.

“To be honest, a lot of these guys feel like they’re better in the position we have them in right now, and if they’re feeling good about, usually good things happen.”

Bullard said Misaalefua’s switch was an easy one for him to make, and it’s been even smoother because of Western’s new 4-3 defense.

Bullard joined the long line of defensive players to rave about defensive coordinator Clint Bowen’s new scheme, saying that it particularly benefits the linebackers.

“It’s one gap, downhill — just run and busting heads,” Bullard said. “It’s very simple. We just get to the point, and you do what you’ve got to do. You’ve got one gap, and if you take care of your job, we’re going to win.”

Bullard will keep a watchful eye to make sure everyone does their job. Taggart said Bullard’s one of the few Toppers who holds his teammates accountable, a characteristic that Bullard said he can’t help.

“I love this team, I love everybody on this team, and I feel like if we want to win, I think everybody needs to be held accountable — from the kickers to the scout team to the first-team starters,” Bullard said. “It’s not just me necessarily being vocal. It’s just me caring about it, I guess.”

Bullard’s love for Western led him out of Houchens-Smith Stadium and down to baseball coach Chris Finwood’s door last spring.

A three-year baseball letter winner in high school, Bullard joined the Toppers’ 2010 baseball squad as an outfielder. Although he batted just .077 with one RBI in 19 games — including five starts — Bullard said the experience was a good way to unwind away from the gridiron.

“Football’s my first love, and it’s always been my first love, but it was cool going over there though,” said Bullard, motioning to Nick Denes Field. “I’ll be back over there.”

With an inexperienced secondary and a defensive line that disappointed last season, the spotlight’s shining brightly on the linebacker corps that recorded nearly 200 combined tackles last year.

Taggart said the table’s set for the trio to have a breakout year. Majors and Bullard have already shown what they can do, and with Misaalefua back where he started, he said the sky’s the limit.

“I think our linebacking corps could be really, really good,” he said. “I think Orlando’s excited to move to linebacker. He’s athletic enough, he can run, and you can see them starting to gel together. They’re starting to gel and play faster.”