You could hear Neville Gallimore‘s excitement through the computer screen. The words flew out of his mouth moments after the Dallas Cowboys selected the defensive tackle in the third round (No. 82 overall) of the 2020 NFL draft.
“A high-effort guy. A guy with the jack-of-all trades. A guy that’s also disruptive and can rush the passer or a guy that can stop the run,” Gallimore said, describing himself. “Whatever you need, whatever you want from me, I will do just that and I’ll do it to the best of my abilities. And how I kind of describe myself, again, is an unfinished process. I feel like a lot of people understand that my ceiling is so high, and I know that. Again, the best football hasn’t come out of me yet, but it’s coming. It’s coming soon.”
NFL players don’t often come from Ottawa, Canada. He is the third from Ottawa to be drafted, joining Jesse Palmer (fourth round, New York Giants, 2001) and Christo Bilukidi (sixth round, Oakland Raiders, 2012).
Gallimore’s journey to the Cowboys took him from Ottawa to Niagara Falls’ Canada Prep and then to Oklahoma.
Tim Baines is a sportswriter by trade, but he was the football coach at St. Patrick’s High School for Gallimore’s first two seasons. Each spring, he would go over to the St. Patrick’s Intermediate School and meet the boys in Grade 8 until he was told he needed to meet this seventh grader who could already dunk a basketball.
It was Gallimore. Baines knew then Gallimore could be special.
In Grade 8, Gallimore would make the short walk over to the high school to watch the football team practice.
“I don’t know if he did that every day, but regularly he would stand off to the side and observe,” said Baines, who works for the Ottawa Sun. “I’d never seen that. You’ve got kids in Grade 8, they have better things to do. Go home and fool around or play video games. He would just watch and he’d talk to some of the older kids. He couldn’t wait, so when he showed up the first day of practice in Grade 9, he was there a half hour before the coaches, waiting for us. That’s the type of commitment and discipline he had. It was far beyond his years.”
Gallimore wanted to play college football in the United States. Getting attention in Canada is difficult for a variety of reasons — level of competition, different rules — so he moved on to Canada Prep a year after checking out the school.
He and a few friends made the four-hour trip to Niagara Falls for a combine at the school, which was designed to help Canadian players gain exposure.
“He’s a business-first guy,” said Geoff McArthur, Gallimore’s coach at Canada Prep. “He’s got a great mixture of seriousness, but he keeps a great sense of humor. His No. 1 focus and goal is to contribute and be accountable to what he’s supposed to do. He’s very aware of the magnitude of the position he’s in. And he’s been preparing for it for a long time.”
Canada Prep played against American teams with American football rules. When Gallimore showed up in 2013, McArthur said most of his teammates thought he was a coach.
“He puts down his gym bag in the hallway and goes all serious — and he’s the goofiest kid ever — but he’s serious and says, ‘Coach, I’m just here to report and when can we go to the weight room?'” McArthur said. “That’s what he wants to do. That’s who he is. He gets excited for the chance to work.”
McArthur, who was a record-setting receiver at California with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback, knew Gallimore would be special, too. Two plays in the same game against a team from Pittsburgh verified his belief.
“This kid who’s going to Temple, he picks up a fumble on a weird kick and he’s gone up the sideline,” McArthur said. “No way he’s getting caught. I’m throwing my headsets. Out of nowhere Neville takes an angle on him and he just ate him up. He’s 265 pounds and he swallowed this kid. Then he blocks a kick and catches the ball. All at once. I’d never seen it before. It was so fast. They blew [the play] dead, but he would’ve scored.”
But on defense, Gallimore excelled.
“We didn’t go in with the thought of turning him into some football scholar,” McArthur said. “We just wanted to use his athleticism, put pressure on the quarterback. And he was brilliant at it. We had him as a stand-up defensive end, weighing 265 pounds. He never put his hand on the ground even when he got to 285.”
Gallimore became the first Canadian to be selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, though a knee injury kept him out of the game. He chose Oklahoma, but adapting to big-time college football was a chore.
“Just because I never really had a D-Line coach, and I never really even had a playbook,” Gallimore said. “Then going full-fledged to basically once I got to Oklahoma just having all of this stuff. Obviously, I had to become a student of the game.”
He redshirted in 2015 but ended up starting 38 games for his career, including all 27 in his final two seasons. He finished with 8.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss and was named a first-team All-Big 12 pick as a senior.
“When you look at a guy with that athleticism and that quick twitch, the ability to penetrate gaps, he’s going to be effective both in the run game and pass game,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “But in this day and age if you can’t rush the passer, your role at any level is going to be minimized.”
Last season was Grinch’s first at Oklahoma, coming in from Ohio State. While he saw Gallimore’s athleticism, he literally saw too much of him. Gallimore dropped 30 pounds in the offseason to fit the changes Grinch was bringing, moving to 301 pounds.
“They had more of a two-gap approach, stay on the line of scrimmage and the order of the day was to get big and kind of build a wall,” Grinch said. “Our style is more get in the backfield, penetrate gaps, place a premium on the athleticism. So he, among others, but him chiefly thought that there was no need to be that far north of 300 pounds.”
Preciate you coach ???? https://t.co/uyEL67Lxii
— Neville Gallimore (@Path2Greatwork) April 25, 2020
Cowboys add one Galli-MORE SOONER‼️ @Path2Greatwork
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) April 25, 2020
Grinch pointed to Gallimore’s two sacks against Texas in the 2019 Red River Rivalry game as an example of Gallimore’s quickness off the ball, but it was a play against Texas Tech that the coaches showed the entire team.
“The Tech quarterback is scrambling, breaks the pocket and is now several yards down the field,” Grinch said. “[Gallimore] chases him down, strips the ball out and gets a takeaway for us. That’s indicative of his ability to run and hit, sideline to sideline.”
One of Grinch’s early coaching stops was at the University of New Hampshire, where he recruited Canadian kids. The coaches there had an axiom with Canadian-born players: it took them three years to get up to speed with the game.
“That’s why I think his best football is ahead of him,” Grinch said.
About a year ago, Gallimore returned to St. Patrick’s, where Bilukidi also attended but did not play football, and Baines said he was like the “pied piper.”
“When you want to inspire young football players and get them out to practice, you just have to point to a guy like Neville Gallimore,” Baines said. “Look at this guy. He was committed. Look where he is now. That’s the influence he can have on the 14-, 15-year-old mind. There’s a lot of good players here that want to play NCAA Division I, but it just doesn’t happen for them. But when you can say, ‘This guy did it, you can do it,’ that means something.”