Peyton Bullinger will try to fall in line with Jace Easley and Garrett Ballard as strong free safeties for Ozark.
Easley was a unanimous All-COC First-Team selection as a senior safety two years ago and Ballard was a Third-Team choice at cornerback two years ago, before shining as a senior and posting 50 tackles at safety last year.
Bullinger, who will start at safety as a junior this year, counts 2023 Ozark grads Brock Dodd, a linebacker, and Ethan Sutherland, a cornerback, as his mentors from the past two seasons.
“I wish I could have learned some things from (Easley) because I know he was a stud on the field,” Bullinger said. “But we didn't cross over a lot (with varsity players) my freshman year. The freshmen kind of did their own thing.
“Brock was all about being physical and playing with a lot of energy. I learned a lot from him,” he added. “Ethan was very knowledgeable about the game. He knew how to read an offense well. I learned that from him.”
Bullinger’s emphasis on reading opposing offenses goes beyond the gridiron. He spends as much time watching film as any of the Tigers. His instincts and speed should help him close in on ball-carriers before they can get in the open field or step in front of would-be receivers to gain an interception.
“I'm pretty quick, but I also watch a lot of film,” Bullinger said. “Any little thing you can get on a team from watching film helps so much. You may not be the quickest guy on the field, but if you know the tendencies of the other team, it makes the game so much easier. Part of the game is on the field, but a big half of the game is studying film. It can help your game so much.
“I'm pretty good at reading the quarterback and which way he is going to go. That puts me in the best position to get a pick,” he added. “I've got to read the guards better for the running game.”
Bullinger saw enough spot duty in Ozark’s secondary last season to get in on a dozen tackles. He values the early experience he gained as a sophomore.
“I feel like last year helped me with learning the speed of the game,” Bullinger said. “It’s a big jump from jayvee to varsity. Guys are a lot bigger, faster and stronger.
“Our first game this year will be a little bit of an eye-opener for some of our guys,” he added. “But I think they will handle it just fine.”
Bullinger has been at safety since he first strapped on shoulder pads. He anticipates playing almost exclusively on defense, as coach Jeremy Cordell looks to minimize the number of Tigers on both sides of the ball.
“I play a little bit of slot receiver and running back. I kind of miss that. I feel I'm all right at (offense),” Bullinger said. “But I love safety; being back there picking off (passes) and getting a good hit in on someone.”