SHELBY, N.C. - Five-star defensive end Jonathan Bullard had envisioned the scene plenty of times, but it still didn't seem real.
The entire student body at Crest High School and the faculty on their feet, giving Bullard a long standing ovation as he was presented with his U.S. Army All-American Bowl jersey - an applause that his coach would later say indicates how much the school appreciates Bullard as a person as much as a football player.
"It meant a lot," Bullard told Rivals.com after the ceremony. "It was just how I had always pictured it. … I really can't (believe it) … it's a big change for me."
Not long ago, the suggestion of Wednesday's scene would have been laughable.
Heading into the summer before his junior season, Bullard checked in at 280 pounds and his work ethic still was in hibernation somewhere under all that unnecessary weight.
But with the pushing of coach Mark Barnes and a summer spent playing AAU basketball, Bullard shed more than 30 pounds, while adding strength and tremendous quickness. With three-star teammate Rhaheim Ledbetter helping to attract scouts, it didn't take long for them to notice the new-look Bullard.
"I've coached a lot of good football players, Division I players, and I think he probably is the most talented player that I've had a chance to coach," Barnes told Rivals.com. "He's gone a long way in one year. This time last year, nobody knew who he was. From that, to being in the All-American Bowl and having a lot of offers, that's a testament to how hard he's worked."
Bullard has taken officials to Nebraska and Clemson, with plans to official South Carolina this weekend and Florida next weekend. He said those will be the only four schools that'll receive officials from him.
Bullard, who was a standout at the Rivals/VTO camp last spring, is ranked second overall in North Carolina, third nationally at defensive end and 19th nationally overall.
"Jon-Jon is a hybrid guy," Barnes said. "He's big enough to play stuff at him well, but he's athletic enough to drop back and play outside linebacker. Those are the guys who are really different and special at defensive end, the guys who can do multiple things well. Jon-Jon can pass rush, he can play stuff at him well and he can redirect like a linebacker. That's the thing that got him. … He dropped down some weight and got in better shape, and his true athletic ability showed up."
Bullard offered a shorter explanation for his domination.
"Speed," he said. "I'm a 6-4, 255-pound guy running a 4.66 coming off the edge."
The Army Bowl will be Jan. 7 in San Antonio's Alamodome.