An Ottawa teenager, considered one of the best high school football players in North America, says he’s excited and relieved after committing to one of the premiere U.S. college football programs.
Two weeks before his 18th birthday, Neville Gallimore stands six feet, three inches tall and carries a broad-shouldered 300-lb. frame. He plays on the defensive line, where he tries to tackle runners or dodge other giant men as he rushes the quarterback.
His rare combination of size, strength, speed and co-ordination attracted recruiters from some of the best college football programs, including Ohio State, University of Florida, Florida State and University of Oklahoma. Those schools worked very hard to get him, according to several U.S. media reports.
Then on Saturday at the U.S. Army All-American game — Gallimore was the first Canadian ever invited to play in the all-star game, but couldn’t suit up due to a knee injury — he committed to Oklahoma.
"The hours and the amount of work I put in over the past month and couple years, to see the results pay off, it definitely meant a lot to me. And I mean it's still very overwhelming," Gallimore said on Monday.
'To be from Ottawa, I’m just happy to be able to go to school and play football in the U.S.' - Neville Gallimore
Jesse Palmer and Christo Bilukidi, both raised in Ottawa, were drafted to the NFL. Bilukidi still plays for the Baltimore Ravens. But Gallimore is trying to be the first one born in Ottawa to play in the NFL.
It is something that makes him very proud.
"To be from Ottawa, I’m just happy to be able to go to school and play football in the U.S., but also I’m not afraid to say I’m Canadian and I’m happy to be one of the few Canadians that took this step," said Gallimore.
His head coach sees bigger things, too. Geoff McArthur played at the NCAA Division I level as a wide receiver catching passes from NFL star Aaron Rodgers. Now he coaches at Canada Prep Football Academy in St. Catharines, Ont.
McArthur met Gallimore in 2012 at a football camp in the Niagara area. Since suffering a career-ending injury, McArthur has coached high school and university-level athletes for about a decade. He said there is something special about Gallimore — where natural talent and physical attributes meet a strong work ethic and modest demeanor.
"He will have the chance to play in the National Football League if he continues to be the same person that I know," said McArthur.
"He had a dream, then it turned into a goal, and then he achieved his goal. And he now believes in himself."
Neville Gallimore's recruitment video
'Going to help all of Canada'
His size is partly natural, of course, but it also comes from hard work in the weight room at Canada Prep, a private football-centric boarding school in its second year of existence.
'He will have the chance to play in the National Football League if he continues to be the same person that I know' - Geoff McArthur, Canada Prep Football Academy Head Coach
"He is going to definitely help all of Canada with what he’s done. For us, it’s just pure luck that we get our hands on a Neville Gallimore. At the same time, if he was doing this at a high school in (Ottawa), the recognition wouldn’t be there," McArthur said.
With the Canada Prep Raiders, Gallimore has travelled through the United States playing American four-down football against the top high school programs in Michigan, Ohio, New York State, Maryland and Texas. Canada Prep often loses badly, but the experience has helped Gallimore prepare to play for Oklahoma.
By moving to play in southern Ontario, Gallimore was forced to live in a dorm on campus. The school also teaches only math, science, English and social studies to prepare students for the SAT and ACT tests necessary for admission to American universities. Arts and music are not offered.
Gallimore agreed with McArthur, saying he likely would not have this opportunity had he remained at St. Patrick’s Catholic High School in Ottawa.
"It definitely put me in a situation to be successful. All we did is eat, sleep, breathe football … that helped me get where I needed to be," Gallimore said.