Meet Bulla Graft: Bishop’s School athlete uses heart, instinct to excel

If there was ever a living example of the motto “it’s what’s on the inside that counts,” it would be The Bishop’s School football and baseball player, senior Bulla Graft. Lauded by coaches in both sports as being one of the best they’ve ever seen, his intuition and personal drive make him an asset to whatever team he plays on.

Football coach Joel Allen, who has coached Graft for all four years at Bishop’s, and said his “football IQ” is higher than anyone he’s ever coached. “Bulla understands concepts and understands what teams are trying to do and he counteracts that,” he said. “And he plays harder than anyone I’ve ever met. After every practice, he is just drenched with sweat. He doesn’t know how to go at things with anything but 110 percent.”

It shows. In football this season, he has 86 rushes, and 1100 yards (which translates to almost 12 yards a carry) and about 24 touchdowns. “So pretty much every third or fourth time he touches the ball, he scores a touchdown,” Allen said.

Al Gomez, who coached Graft in baseball his freshman year, can also attest to his intuition. “He is a real instinctual player, he has a lot of intangible skills that are almost impossible to coach,” he said. When Graft played on Gomez’s team, his coach said once he got on base, he would use his speed and instinct to steal bases.

Further, with Graft on base, the coaches do not have to rely on as many sacrifice bunts to advance the runner. “It was always nice knowing we could get him in scoring position without sacrificing anyone,” Gomez said.

Not to mention that in Graft’s first at-bat his freshman year, he hit a home run.

“He’s a really tough kid and he loves to compete and does not like to lose. That kind of drives him. A lot of kids are competitive, but he brings something extra,” Gomez said.

But you’d never know it from looking at him. At 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, Graft is considered an “undersized” athlete. However, Gomez said, “His skill set on both fields could easily get him to the next level. The question is whether coaches down the line would be willing to take a chance on an undersized player.

“On paper, his size is not impressive, and college recruiters look at the 6-foot, 180-pound kids. But you really can’t just look at him strictly off of paper, it just doesn’t do it justice. You need to see him play.”

Other players comparable to Graft’s height – San Diego Chargers Branden Oliver stands at 5-foot-7, and Philadelphia Eagles player Darren Sproles at 5-foot-6 – are much more muscular, particularly in their legs, and weigh a lot more.

“But Bulla can get there,” Allen said. “A school just needs to give him the opportunity.”

Graft is hoping for that opportunity and is currently applying to colleges. He hopes to study business as well as play sports “for as long as I can.” As for where he got his fighting spirit and athletic intuition: “my mom” he says.

“I probably get my athleticism and having my heart in the game from my mom,” he said. “My parents raised me to be a competitive athlete and do good things. But my mom is definitely the boss of the family; my dad is more laid back.”

Graft, of Chula Vista, whose actual first name is Bailey, has been going by Bulla since he was a child. “In Hawaiian culture (from which his mother hails), Bulla means chubby baby, and I guess I was a chubby baby, so the name just stuck,” he said. Graft has been playing sports since he was 5 years old, including football, baseball and basketball. In his free time, he plays indoor soccer.

Whatever team he plays for, coaches are convinced he is going to make them better. Allen attributes Graft’s longtime participation on the team to its increasingly better seasons (boasting 8-0 this season so far). Gomez added, “He does a really good job at making the players around him better. He’ll be the first one in the weight room and the last one to leave. He’s the first to give a pat on the back if someone doesn’t play well and say ‘we’ll get ‘em next time.’ He’s just a tremendous athlete and a great person.”