River Rouge – De’Andre Bulley arrived at River Rouge High School as a quiet but confident football player in search of a male role model who could help him grow up to be a young man with a promising future.
Bulley, whose father passed away when he was 9, found that helping hand in River Rouge coach Corey Parker.
Bulley, who is ranked No. 15 on The Detroit News list of Blue Chip recruits, has multiple college options and will make his decision official on Wednesday on National Signing Day.
Bulley committed to Akron prior to his senior year, but then Akron kept losing while River Rouge kept winning, all the way to Ford Field, where it upset No. 1 Muskegon and Ohio State-bound Cameron Martinez 30-7 in the Division 3 state title game.
Bulley, who de-committed from Akron during the season, rushed for 1,975 yards this past fall, capped off with a 33-yard TD run in the fourth-quarter of the state championship game and earned a spot on The Detroit News Dream Team.
Bulley re-opened his commitment, which led to offers from San Diego State and other schools. Western Michigan was his first offer his sophomore year, and Eastern Michigan and Morgan State – coached by former Michigan running back Tyrone Wheatley – are also in the mix.
Bulley was still undecided on where he plans to play his college ball Thursday afternoon while showing his maturity, confidence and outgoing personality in a 30-minute interview with The News about his life and plans.
But there is one thing for certain, and that’s Bulley’s love for Parker.
“I learned a lot from Coach Parker, he changed my life around,” said the 6-foot, 240-pound Bulley, who benches 225 pounds 15 times and runs a 4.6 40. “He’s basically like Pops to me, like a dad, since my dad died when I was 9. He really taught me everything I know.
“Ninth grade he brought me in as a son basically. I used to stay around him all day. He taught me how to cook, taught me how to shave, how to talk to people because I was quiet back then.”
Bulley helped River Rouge win the school’s first state title in football after 14 state championships in football.
“Coach Parker told me when I was in eighth grade that I’d be a state champion by the time I left River Rouge,” Bulley said. “I came here as a quarterback who could run, then moved to running back. I split time at running back my junior year with Kalief Jenkins, then took over full-time this season.”
Road to the title
It didn’t take long this season for Bulley to apply some of the leadership skills he learned from Parker, as River Rouge opened with a 17-14 loss to Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
“After we took that loss, everybody was having their heads down and I kept mine up. I told them (teammates) we’re going to get out of it, and after that loss there was no turning back. We just turned it up to another level.”
After that loss to Grand Rapids CC – which went on to win the Division 4 state championship – River Rouge piled up 13 straight wins, including a 49-14 regional title win over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s when Bulley rushed for 220 yards. Chelsea played River Rouge tough in a state semifinal, 14-7, concentrating on stopping Bulley.
In the state final, Bulley was confident Muskegon would take a page out of Chelsea’s strategy and told 6-3 junior dual-threat quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski that he would be the star in the title game and Bulley would make it happen by blocking for him.
Hrabowski stole the spotlight from Martinez, beating him at his own game by rushing for 175 yards and three TDs with the run option attack, scoring on runs of 40 and 35 yards while also breaking loose for 48 yards to set up his 1-yard TD run.
“Before the game I told Mareyohn they are going to key on me because if they saw the semifinal game they keyed on me and there wasn’t anything we could do,” Bulley said. “Mareyohn’s a tough guy, but he’s young, so he knows when I speak and see something everyone listens.
“I just want to win. It doesn’t matter if I get the ball or block all day. As long as we get the play right and are doing well, that’s all that matters.”
Parker loves to play a role in young men’s lives and enjoyed helping Bulley.
“I’ve had a father-son relationship with De’Andre since he was in the eighth grade, and we just continued to work on developing who he was as a person,” Parker said. “We made sure he had an understanding of who cared about him and how he performed as a student just as much as his success athletically.
“When he had a difficult (school) assignment he would come out to the house and we helped him out, just like I do with everyone on the team. He just made the guest room his own, so it was definitely a father-son relationship. I come down on him very hard about a lot of different things – dating, school work or effort at practice or leadership, and I always came down on him about those things as a ninth and 10th grader, so the time he became a 12th grader it was easy for him. Pretty much everything his senior year was icing on the cake because he had worked so hard on things before.”
Parker always knew Bulley had the talent to be an impact player.
“He’s a very physical player, but he definitely lived in pressure-packed moments,” Parker said. “De’Andre was one of those kids when all the lights were on and most teams decided to not throw the ball late in games, we were still able to run the ball because he lived in moments that were the toughest. That’s just a direct reflection on how his mom raised him and the different things he went through in his life. He’s just a tough kid both mentally and physically.
“He’s a dominant runner, but an even better blocker, and his leadership skills were amazing, especially since he had such a lackadaisical approach his sophomore and junior years because there was always another alpha male in the room. But as a senior he was our go-to workhorse and he had to be the leader, and he made sure everyone was at practice on time, that they knew what was expected of them.”
And Bulley will always have the memory of playing at Ford Field, scoring on that fourth-quarter TD run to put an exclamation point on the upset victory.
“It was a huge hole and my eyes got big, my heart starting racing,” Bulley said. “What a great way to go out.”
So now Bully has an important decision to make as National Signing Day approaches.
“I took an official visit to Morgan State a couple of weeks ago, liked that, like the HBCs (Historical Black Colleges); it’s a better environment,” said Bulley. “I went to Eastern Michigan a couple of months ago, talked to Western Michigan a couple of weeks ago. San Diego State offered but I didn’t get the chance to go there.”
Relationships will weigh heavily in Bulley’s decision.
“If I have the best relationship ever with a coach, I trust him and believe in him, that’s where my heart will tell me to go,” he said. “Coach Wheatley was a good guy, I like Coach Creighton (at EMU), talked to Coach Lester (WMU) a couple of weeks ago. All the coaches are cool, so I have to look at the important stuff, school-wise, and that will set the tone because it really is more than football.”