As the end of Northwestern’s first quarter against Penn State approached, junior linebacker Bryce Gallagher saw quarterback Sean Clifford’s passing spiral.
When the ball traveled down, it seemed to be on the perfect path towards Gallagher. So he dove in and intercepted the ball as it hit the ground. It was a fun moment in a tense rainy game, with his teammates surrounding him and jumping around.
NU were unable to beat the Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) and struggled with an aggressive gelling. But the Wildcats (1-4, 1-1) defense shined and Gallagher took the lead. The Massachusetts native recorded his first interception and forced fumble of his career, as well as his six solo tackles and recovered fumbles.
For Gallagher, Saturday’s breakout had been months in the making.
“I have more reps and more confidence,” Gallagher said. “Because takeout is a mindset,[I]have a ‘go and get the ball’ mindset. We’ve been highlighting that as a defense. It felt good to be able to do it.”
After a quiet first two seasons with NU, Gallagher has become a staple in the Cats’ lineup in 2021. He made a total of 54 solo tackles, ranking second on the team. ‘s total of 89 tackles placed him 15th in the Big Ten.
Gallagher said his growth going into the 2022 season was the result of a focus on strength.
Junior linebacker Grayson Mets said Gallagher played a key role in leading the team during the offseason. He said that he was encouraging him to do so.
This hard work earned Gallagher the title of captain. This is an honor voted for by his fellow players. As team leader, Gallagher has made it a priority to help his younger teammates, and he said he has passed on the same advice older players have given him.
“(I tell them) ‘You just have to get out there and do your job,'” Gallagher said. “You can’t get any bigger than this. You have to go out and do what your coach says and trust your teammates.”
As captain, the Mets said Gallagher was a “servant leader.” He’s personable and sets an example for his younger teammates in the way he behaves every day, the Mets said.
Coaching young and inexperienced players has proven particularly important given the defense suffered an injury in September. One junior defensive back Garnett Hollis Jr. said Gallagher was a “true leader.” He’s good at picking up defenses in tough moments and rallying them on the field, Hollis Jr. said.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald called Gallagher “a footballer-like player.” He was particularly impressed with Gallagher’s performance on Saturday, and said his dynamic play has lived up to his expectations as team captain.
Fueled by Saturday’s breakout, Gallagher hopes to keep the momentum going. Faced with the demanding schedule of Big His Ten, his NU has one thing in mind.
“(I) want to keep helping the team win,” Gallagher said. “Anything I can do to win is what I’m focused on.”
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