Before he was the Packers' presumed left tackle of the future, before he was a quarterback-sacking defensive end and touchdown-catching tight end in high school, Bryan Bulaga had other dreams.
Like being the next Jerry Rice.
"Jerry Rice was my favorite player," Bulaga told Packer Report for this excerpt of our magazine Cover Story. "I was always taller than everyone else so I always had this conception in my mind that I could play receiver. I really liked to watch Jerry Rice all the time, because whenever I was on the playground in grade school, I'd always play receiver."
By the time Bulaga started playing peewee football when he was 6 or 7, he was on the defensive line.
"He always just seemed to be just a little bigger than most kids," said his dad, Joe, "whether it was grade-school hoops or Little League or youth football."
Joe and his mom, Kathi, were driving forces behind Bryan's development as an athlete and person. Joe is a telecommunications manager and Kathi teaches children with learning disabilities.
"My dad's been pushing me since Day 1, ever since I was in peewee football," Bulaga said. "He never let me think that whatever I did on the football field, the basketball court or whatever was good enough. I could have always gotten better. There's never a sense of complacency. He did that at Iowa, too There was never a game where, ‘Wow, you've really become great.' It was always, ‘You looked good, but you can do this better, do that better.' My dad always pushed me and never let me become complacent as a young kid, so that when I was older, I had those values built into me. He didn't have to tell me that; that's just how I thought."
Told that Bulaga called him the most-important person in becoming the man he is today, Joe Bulaga recalled the parental advice provided along the way.
"My thing with them was, if you're going to do something, don't do it halfway," Joe Bulaga said. "If you're going to pursue, whether it's in school, whether it's in in sports or whether it's going to be in business, you can't do anything halfway. You've got to go for it all the way and go after it and go get it. I certainly pushed it and, at times probably, didn't accept half-hearted effort."
They were the same traits that endeared Bulaga to Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
"I guess it's not a bad trait, is it?" Joe Bulaga said.
Bulaga didn't start playing left tackle until his senior year in high school. After a year at guard at Iowa, he started at left tackle for his final two seasons. To help learn the tricks of the trade, he studied former Big Ten stud left tackles Jake Long of Michigan (now with Miami) and Joe Thomas of Wisconsin (now with Cleveland), gaining an admiration for their physicality, strength and technique.
Standing onstage at Radio City Music Hall when Bulaga held a Packers jersey with commissioner Roger Goodell was an unforgettable moment for his family and a testament to the value of never doing anything halfway.
"It's tremendous. It's all him," Joe Bulaga said. "We're proud of the fact that when you're given a talent or you have a goal in mind that you stick to it and you go after it. It's not so much the accomplishments, it's the work and the dedication and the focus that he put into going there. That's what we're most proud about."
Bulaga, who enjoys movies, video games and golf in his free time (he says he isn't a good golfer), is a communicatinos major who would like to become a sports broadcaster. That's a possibility for the distant future, though. Bulaga is focused on today — not that his football past hasn't crossed his mind on occasion.
Wearing a green-and-gold No. 75 rather than his childhood No. 80, Bulaga wouldn't mind putting those old receiving skills to use. Maybe he'd have more luck persuading coach Mike McCarthy than Iowa's offensive coordinator, Ken O'Keefe.
"Coach O'Keefe just looked at me and laughed and say, ‘All right, Bulaga, we'll see what we can do,'" Bulaga recalled with a laugh. "And it never happened."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.