MSU’s Bulloughs have strong ties to Notre Dame

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Divided households in Michigan usually are reserved for one specific weekend during the college football season.

When it comes to Michigan-Michigan State, some families under the same roof are split on their allegiances. It’s fun to put out multi-colored flags and take pictures wearing the latest fashions sporting each team’s logo.

For Michigan State linebacker Riley Bullough, there is a twist.

Well before his Spartans play the Wolverines at Spartan Stadium in October, he’ll have his own sort of divide when No. 12 Michigan State travels to No. 18 Notre Dame tonight.

That’s because the latest member of what could be described as the first family of Michigan State football happens to be part of a family with plenty of ties to Notre Dame.

“Growing up, we’d go to Notre Dame games and the next week come to a Michigan State game,” the fifth-year senior said. “So we’re always traveling.

“My grandpa has a huge part over there. My mom went there. My uncle played there. So to be able to go down there and get a win against them in that environment, it means so much to the team.”

The connection to both schools runs deep for Bullough and his brother Byron, a sophomore linebacker for the Spartans.

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It runs the deepest at Michigan State, where their grandfather, Hank, played under legendary coaches Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty and later returned to coach with Daugherty. Their father, Shane, played linebacker at Michigan State and was a captain in 1986, and their uncle, Chuck, also played linebacker and still holds the school record for tackles in a season (175, 1991).

Older brother Max was a three-year starter at middle linebacker and a captain in 2013. And even their sister, Holly, is a freshman and will run track and cross country for the Spartans.

At Notre Dame, it’s mom’s side of the family.

Grandfather Jim played for the Fighting Irish from 1954-56 while their uncle Jim was a defensive back in 1976-77. It was Uncle Jim’s brother, Bobby, who played at Michigan State, that introduced Shane to his sister, LeeAnn, also a Notre Dame graduate.

Shane and LeeAnn eventually married and some 30 years later, there is little doubt who LeeAnn is rooting for tonight.

“My mom bleeds green nowadays,” Riley said. “So she’ll definitely be wearing the Spartan jersey and rooting us on.”

It’s been that way for some time, dating to the first time Max played Notre Dame. That was in 2010 when Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio called the now famous “Little Giants” play that gave MSU the overtime victory.

Max Bullough was on the field for that play, and three years later at Notre Dame Stadium, Riley was there, too. Only then, Riley was still finding his way. He played tailback, carrying one time for 1 yard.

This is his first trip back to South Bend, and so much has happened since. The Spartans won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl in 2013, finishing No. 3 in the nation. Riley Bullough transitioned back to linebacker and made the final interception in a victory over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl to close 2014, and was the starting middle linebacker in 2015 as Michigan State won the Big Ten and reached the College Football Playoff.

The memories of his childhood pulling for both teams will be strong as he takes the field, but his No. 1 goal is getting Michigan State on the right track back toward the playoffs.

“Growing up we were Notre Dame and Michigan State fans and every year they played it was always a huge deal in our family.” Bullough said. “So to be able to go down there again and play, it’s gonna be a special time for me and a special time for this team.”

There will, of course, be plenty of family on hand to see how it all plays out.

“I think now they’ve kind of moved over to the Spartan side,” he said. “They might be sitting in Notre Dame seats, but I’m sure they will be rooting for me and Byron.” @mattcharboneau