Bulldogs’ Bullard beats odds

Center fielder Brett Bullard is the first graduate student transfer to play for coach Fred Jordan in his 22 years at The Citadel.

The scouting report on Brett Bullard coming out of North Charleston’s Northwood Academy five years ago was not glowing.

“He was a little small, a little weak,” recalls Citadel baseball coach Fred Jordan. “He was not a fit for us. He was not a fit for a lot of people.”

In fact, Bullard had only one college offer, from Division II North Greenville. And one of the coaches at North Greenville — Bullard declines to name him — told the kid, ‘You will never play college baseball.’ ”

Said Bullard: “I weighed 140 pounds, and my arm was not very good.”

Little wonder, then, that Bullard found it “surreal” to be at Riley Park on Feb. 10 for The Citadel’s annual “Meet the Bulldogs” day. A full-fledged member of The Citadel’s baseball team, he signed autographs for hundreds of fans with his teammates and reflected on his unusual journey.

“That’s when it really hit me,” he said. “I was a Division I baseball player.”

After things didn’t work out at North Greenville, Bullard’s journey took him to historically black Claflin University in Orangeburg, where he was an all-conference center fielder and one of 20 whites among 2,000 students at the Division II school.

And it led him back to The Citadel, where he’s the first graduate student transfer to play for Jordan in his 22 years with the Bulldogs.

“It’s not that I didn’t believe I could play Division I baseball,” said Bullard, who is now 5-10 and 185 pounds.

“I just didn’t know if other people believed it.”

How determined to play college baseball was Bullard?

He cold-called Claflin coach James Randall on Aug. 1, 2009 — mere weeks before school started — “because I had nowhere else to go.” And after graduating in three years from Claflin, he decided to pursue his master’s degree at The Citadel — and cold-called Fred Jordan to ask if he could try out for the team.

Both calls were “intimidating” to make, said Bullard, who wants to teach and coach just like his dad, longtime Charleston-area coach Ike Bullard.

At Claflin, it didn’t take long for Bullard’s black teammates to take him in. They called him “Brizzle” and made sure he was okay on campus. The baseball was pretty good, too — one of his teammates, catcher Donald Smith, was drafted in the 38th round by the Red Sox last year.

“After one semester, I sort of settled in,” he said. “Everyone knew who I was and looked out for me, and I hung out with the guys. You gain a perspective on African-American culture. Here I was living as a minority, and I could see through their eyes some of the things they go through.”

The thought of playing baseball at The Citadel, a proud program where all the players go through the military school’s “fourth-class system,” also was scary, he said. Grad students have played for the Bulldogs’ football and basketball teams — Princeton grad Stephen Elmore is on the basketball team this season — but not for the baseball team.

“I had never heard of a grad student who never went through the Corps of Cadets being on the baseball team,” Bullard said. “I have a lot of respect for what those guys go through as cadets.”

Jordan said he was “probably too honest” with Bullard about his chances of making the Bulldogs’ 35-man roster.

“I told him it was an extremely long, long shot,” Jordan said.

But Bullard showed up for every practice and every weight-lifting session — even one at 5 a.m. — last fall. And he played well enough in fall scrimmages to earn a spot.

“His determination is what stood out,” Jordan said. “He could have come out just for weekend practices, he didn’t have to come to the weight room. But he did, and he earned a spot. It was not given to him.

“He was unbelievable in our scrimmages, and that’s what got him this opportunity.”

Bullard, a designated hitter/outfielder, has played in eight games and started five for the 7-5 Bulldogs, but is batting only .150 so far.

“He’s trying a little too hard right now,” Jordan said. “But he will relax. He knows his swing and knows his game. He’ll play well for us.”

If determination has anything to do with it, he will.